Before my post graduation backpack adventure, I was consulting with my friend Venus from Vietnam, whom I met in Bangkok during the ASF 2012, regarding which places in her country I should visit aside from Ho Chi Minh City. I was initially planning to go to Mui Ne since I read that the beaches there are really nice.
Venus, however, suggested that we go to her hometown Da Lat, which is in the highlands of Vietnam. I agreed since she said that her family will host me there and that the temperature there is quite cold.
Coming back from Cambodia, I met Venus in Ho Chi Minh City. On that same night, we took an overnight sleeper bus to Da Lat. We arrived at Venus’s house at 5:00am. At 9:00am, we were already on our way to see the beautiful city of Da Lat.
Da Lat is very much like Baguio or Tagaytay (Philippines). It is neighbored by mountains, lakes, rivers and waterfalls. It used to be the retreat and vacation place of the French given its cold weather. As such, there are lots of French buildings left in the old town.
Day 1: Da Lat Train Station, Pagodas, Lakes, Elephant Waterfalls
After having breakfast, we went to Da Lat Train Station. According to Venus, this was the oldest train station in Vietnam and that it was built by the French to go to the other highlands.
Inside the station, there are old trains that tourists can ride and use as backgrounds for photos. The train engines still remain intact and can actually be played with.
Our next destination was the Thien Vien Truc Lam Pagoda, a famous Buddhist temple in Da Lat. This pagoda has beautiful and well-decorated flower gardens. It’s a good place to sit down, relax and unwind.
The pagoda is located next to a lake. There’s actually a path from the pagoda that leads to the shores of the lake. Venus and I walked down the hill to see the majestic view.
After visiting the lake, we went back to Venus’s house to have lunch. We then met up with Venus’s best friend Jasmine and her boyrfriend who accompanied us to the Elephant Waterfalls.
The waterfalls is located around 10 kilometers from the town center. The road going there is quite narrow and followed a zigzag pattern. Although it’s quite scary to trek using a motorbike, the wonderful view really makes it worth it. We had to stop countless times just to take photos.
We arrived at the Elephant Waterfalls after a 30-minute motorbike ride. We paid 20,000 VND (1 USD) per person to enter the park. I thought that tourists can only take photos of the waterfalls from above. I was surprised when Venus and her friends led me down to see and experience the waterfalls from below.
We even went closer. So close that we were already beside the waterfalls. If I had brought extra clothes and if it weren’t so cold, I surely would’ve taken a dip.
It was a great experience to come very close to a waterfall. It’s a really great adventure.
Speaking of adventures, I tried something adventurous on the way home from the waterfalls. I had been riding Venus’s motorbike since we were in Saigon. I did not want to miss the chance to learn how to motorbike while I’m in a country that uses this vehicle as their main means of transportation.
So, on our way back, I asked Venus if I could drive her motorbike. She surprisingly agreed. I was scared at first but since the roads in Da Lat are not congested, I did not have a hard time learning.
We ended our day with two things: beer and shopping. After dinner, we went to a bar to get some draft beer. Draft beer is fresh brewed beer that only lasts a day. It’s really sweet and cheap. For 20,000 VND, we already got a pitcher.
After a few drinks, we went shopping in the Da Lat Night Market. Prices in Da Lat are almost half as cheap compared to prices in Saigon. It’s a great place to shop for scarves, leather jackets and the like.
Day 2: Pagodas, Flower Gardens, Cultural Village, Lang Biang Mountain
We started our second and last day in Da Lat by having breakfast in a street stall. The vendor was even kind enough to let me try cooking the dish.
Our first stop for the day was another pagoda. This one had the biggest Buddha statue in Da Lat. The temple is also open to foreigners who want to meditate and relax.
We went next to a flower garden. The flower industry is one of the main industries in Da Lat. Hence, there are many botanical gardens in the city. The residents raise and experiment on different kinds of flowers to improve the industry. The flowers are really unique and beautiful.
After having a few drinks at the flower garden cafeteria, we went to the XQ Cultural Village. This is a museum where traditional Vietnamese embroidery is featured. They vary in shapes, sizes and designs.
The village houses some art works by various Vietnamese artists. The houses in the village also follows the traditional Vietnamese architecture. Hence, this was a great place to have a photoshoot.
Like what I did with Zura in Malaysia, I also exchanged national costumes with Venus. I gave her a baro’t saya and she gave me a Vietnamese Ao Dai. Given the beautiful traditional houses, we decided to have the photoshoot in the XQ Cultural Village.
The other visitors and even the staff loved our costumes. I also loved my Ao Dai. If it weren’t for our next destination, I would’ve worn it the entire day.
Our last destination for our Da Lat adventure was Lang Biang Mountain. This is a mountain situated 10 kilometers from the town center and requires a 30,000 VND fee per person. We had lunch at the foot of the mountain before we started our trek.
Even if the road was cemented, the mountain is quite difficult to climb. The total trek takes 6 kilometers of very steep slopes. At certain points of the trek, I wanted to quit and go back down. I had a difficult time catching my breath given that I’m a smoker.
We reached the peak of the mountain after an hour and a half. Though tiring, the view is really worth it. It gives a beautiful view of the entire Da Lat and the surrounding mountains.
On top of the mountain, there’s a small coffee shop and park. 2,000 meters above the ground, there’s a statue about the story of Lang and Biang. Lang and Biang were lovers. Unfortunately, they came from rival tribes. They went to this mountain to live together but on the way, one of them died. The other killed herself because of the loneliness. The father of the girl became so angry that he united the different tribes. Hence, this mountain was called Lang Biang.
On the way down, it rained hard. It’s a good thing a jeep passed by and gave us a lift. (Tourists can rent jeeps to go to the peak for 30,000 VND per person per way.)
We went back to Venus’s house and prepared for our departure. I cooked adobo to give a taste of Filipino cuisine to my host family. I’m really glad that they liked it.
That same night, we took a sleeper bus back to Saigon. Though short, my trip to Da Lat showed me the other side of Vietnam. Unlike the busy city of Saigon, Da Lat is a place where nature, religion and culture are in harmony with each other. The people in Da Lat live quiet and happy lives unlike the busy people of Ho Chi Minh.
I will surely go back to this place.
Thank you, Venus for bringing me to Da Lat! Thanks also to your family for hosting me. I hope to see you in the Philippines!