After the somewhat disappointing Mui Ne, we were looking forward to Da Lat, with it’s unique Swiss Alps reputation.
And it’s a reputation it deserves, while still un-mistakingly Asian, it’s really possible to get that alpine feel with the wide open but winding roads that weave and knot across the towns hills and suburbs. It’s got a lot of charm, with occasional European style bakeries, and some nice local food stops as well. We enjoyed a meal one night in (one of the many) Art Cafe, which features paper tablecloths and crayons, meaning you can draw yourself a picture before your food arrives. Functional accommodation at a decent price wasn’t hard to find which is always nice as well. The town has a pretty decent night market in the centre, ranging happily from the usual touristy fair through to more authentic basics, including some of the best thrift store style sale rails I’ve ever seen. It was be possible to stock up on fancy dress gear (especially 70s and 80s) for the next decade for less than a tenner.
Jumping on the mopeds again, we did a tour of the sights within the city which included the Crazy House, Palace, Cablecar and the steam train. Starting at the top, the crazy house is an Alice in Wonderland inspired piece of ridiculous architecture, fanciful staircases and archways span the gaps between castles and trees and towers. Imagine the Disney castle on acid and you’re about there. The Palace was an odd stop, not particularly exciting itself, as a holiday getaway for the Royal family, and not as impressive, either architecturally, or significantly as the Reunification Palace in HCMC,but they do allow visitors to try on some royal robes and pose for photos, which we did, and the results are quite hilarious.
The cablecar goes from the top of one hill near Da Lat, to another, a little further away, which gives you access to a very nice Temple and Gardens, which lead down to a lake. The temple building were nice, not overly impressive, but fitting for the location, and the garden was wonderfully taken care of. The ride in the gondola was quite pretty, with some nice views over the nearby hills and farmland. Finally, we hopped on the steam train, as it was leaving shortly after we had arrived to visit the station.While the station was fairly pretty, the train ride lead through some more authentic (ugly) parts of the towns suburbs, more urban than the rural we had seen from the cablecar though. We arrived at the far end, with an hour to kill and no clue what to see, but thankfully the train staff were on hand to direct us to a big temple area, with several huge shrines and statues, along with a big statue manufacturer with plenty on display. Up in the towers, the views offered some impressive vistas both over more countryside, and across the temple grounds. Certainly no gardens with this one, but some interesting building structures, and highly ornate decorations. On our return home, we passed the ‘love garden’ a park filled with so many more of the giant tacky concrete sculptures that the area seemed to have in abundance. We didn’t venture too far in the dark, but having seen enough love heart benches and other overtly cheesy romantic features, we didn’t feel the need to go much further.
The next day saw us exploring a little further afield, checking out some of the local water features AKA waterfalls. The first was a touristy feature, with a strange little luge ride, another cablecar and shrines all over the place. While the waterfalls themselves were impressive the features somewhat ruined the area. The bottom waterfall is the bigger and more impressive as well as quieter, but you have to pay to take the elevator down to reach it. Once there though, it’s a much nicer part to spend time in, and a quick swim in the pool is very refreshing. Jumping into each waterfall seems to be a habit of mine. The luge was a peculiar event, as it’s on rails the only control you have is the speed, and it would seem that about 20% of the people on these rides like to go very slow, and with no overtaking lane, this means everyone ends up going very slow. So, really, I don’t recommend the luge, it’s just really annoying!
The second waterfall is much further out and takes a bit of skill to get past the roadworks going on. Make sure your driver knows what they’re doing, it’s really not for beginners. That said, when you finally make it out there it is worth it; the waterfall is huge, and has plenty of climbing opportunities around to get different angles. The fallen rocks create quite a challenge to climbing, and getting as close as possible really is an adventure. There’s also a good pool to have a swim in, which is a must in my book. At the top there is another temple, this time featuring a massive Buddha, although this is the fat Buddha, rather than the skinny ones you find in Thailand.
I don’t remember exactly where or what the waterfalls were called, although I believe the second was the ‘elephant waterfall’. The wikitravel page for Dalat was quite invaluable for this stop.
So after a good few swims, and plenty of moped adventure it was time to hop on the bus again heading overnight for Nha Trang.