Dalat is different to the rest of Vietnam. Tucked away in the rolling hills, it is filled with tea plantations and French style architecture which creates a European hideaway in Vietnam. Travelling there by local bus took me on some very windy corners and dangerous cliff edges, leaving me to hold my breath for most of the journey. It took me further and further away from bustling cities, and closer and closer to lush green mountains filled with a different climate, culture, and even people. Probably because of all the fresh air they get.
The town is small, all merging together in a central clump where the local market is held, where “outside cafes” shout food orders to one another to satisfy their impatient customers and piles of various types of clothes lie in organized heaps on the floor being bargained and bartered over. A walk along the lake is beautiful at night, as groups of local’s gossip and watch the street lights dance on the lake’s reflection.
There is little to do in the town itself, except sip coffee in French style cafes, read a book and watch the world wander past. The town is more about distracting oneself by its nature, beauty and calm atmosphere, then significant tourist attractions. Head out to the surrounding landscape either by renting a motorbike or taking the fusion of a motorcyclist cum tour guide, whom call themselves ‘Easy Riders’. They are known and recommended by the Lonely Planet for their expertise and knowledge of the local area, so if in doubt biking yourself, jump onto the back of one of these friendly and informative tours.
They take you to the beautiful hills of Dalat, which is filled with rows and rows of tea plantations all rubbing shoulders with one another and laid out in front of you as if a magic carpet of Tetley. Other stops include the Elephant Waterfall, a large waterfall which spurts out water with such force and strength, even when you stand at a faraway distance, you still manage to get wet. Afterwards, you are shown coffee plants, the very start of the crop cycle that gives energy and buzz to so many eager addicts, a beautiful flower garden, a silk worm factory where you learn about the enormous industry of silk and the tiny creature it stems from and a rice wine garden– where you are pushed to taste it. Not only this, you are taken to an incredibly popular sight within the town of Dalat, (and one that has since put Dalat on the tourist map), the ‘Crazy House’, otherwise known as Hang Nga Guesthouse. The ‘Crazy House’ was originally built for the purpose of a guest house, but found little interest in customers who actually wanted to stay there, due to its bizarre and garish nature. The style of the house is reminiscent of the works of Gaudi and Dali, swirls and surrealist passageways that lead to incredibly unique- and odd might I add, animal themed private rooms. The house is a marvel to find in such a quiet mountain town of Dalat, it is definitely an interesting visit.
Although, I sped through the surrounding areas of Dalat in one day, travelling by motorbike does make the journey much easier and quicker. It also allows you to fully appreciate the spectacular scenery around you, passing through hill tribes, stopping regularly at random locations and experiencing real Vietnamese culture. Many tourists do buy or hire a bike for their journey in Vietnam, riding from end of the country to another, and with landscapes like those in Dalat, you can see why it is a popular choice. I really enjoyed riding with an “Easy Rider”, not only because I was able to sit back and enjoy the scenery without focusing on the road, but I got to know my Vietnamese rider, Binh. He told me stories at lunch of his old job, working in factories where he lost his thumb and how his heart was never in to his work. Now with “Easy Riders”, he could improve his English and learn from visitors from all over the world, as well as see his beautiful country of Vietnam through new eyes everyday. Choosing this option to see Dalat, made me feel not only was I educating myself, but supporting someone who needed it.