The town of Dalat, in south Vietnam, is brilliantly chilly. It’s breezy and a little grey, and was such a welcome respite from the baking heat of the rest of south-east Asia. I loved it the instant I arrived – in spite of the fact I got there at 6am, with a mean cold I’d gotten on the night bus, with a day on a motorbike ahead of me. A two-hour kip sorted me out just about right. Travelling is no relaxing activity…
Dalat is famous with backpackers for its easy rider tours. What that means is that you’ll get on the back of a motorbike and be driven around the area by a guide – or you can choose to drive your own motorbike and simply follow the guide. Not one for me… While I’ve definitely been adventurous on this trip so far and have done things I normally wouldn’t, I’m still struggling to walk without falling over myself, so I feel like motorbikes are one to avoid.
My first stop was Tuyền Lâm lake, a stunning man-made lake flanked by Voi mountain, where I found Thien Vien Truc Lam Monastery. There was a lot of tourists around, but still the place felt quiet, especially once a little rain started falling.
I’ve been instagramming a lot on this trip and it’s made me, or helped me realise how sensitive to colours I am. Colours are what I look for when shooting (along with straight lines – I do love a good geometric snap) and Dalat really delivered on that level. The dark green of the pine forests against the pale grey of the sky, the rusty red of the basaltic soils, the blueish anthracite of the asphalt, the stark white of the road markings… yes please.
The region of Dalat is known for its flower- and coffee-growing. I took a peek at some coffee plants – I’d never seen any before and it took even this coffee snob a while to understand what those little green grains were. One coffee speciality of the region is weasel coffee. Weasels are fed coffee grains, which, once digested, are collected back from the animals’ poo. I was told the digestive acids give the coffee a special flavour, and naturally couldn’t resist trying it… and it’s true! Weasel coffee’s very smooth, sweet and chocolatey. And goes for around £50 a cup, I hear. Not in Vietnam…
Not a dry eye at the Elephant Waterfall (ha)
As for Dalat itself, aside from the many coffee shops and a few delicious Dalat pizza spots (a grilled rice paper roll topped with pizza-like ingredients), the main attraction is the Crazy House. Hằng Nga Guesthouse, as it’s actually called, is a hotel-cum-artwork created by architect Đặng Việt Nga. Imagine a mix of Alice in Wonderland, Gaudí, Hobbiton and Disney castle and you’ve got yourself a close picture of what the Crazy House looks like.
A guide explained to me that this project took many years to get off the ground. Nga had to fight hard to convince both the local and national authorities to allow her design, and the early building was stopped and destroyed several times. Private funding helped to get it properly going, but Nga, now in her late years, still lives onsite to continue overseeing building work, as the property’s still unfinished, 26 years after it first opened.
Going to Dalat?
- Stay at Dalat Sky Hostel. It’s the most comfortable hostel bed I’ve stayed in in my time in Asia, and the family dinner is a must-do – huge amounts of delicious food for a reasonable price.
- Eat Dalat pizza at Cafe 34 on Bùi Thi Xuân. The locals told me it was the best.
- Go for a drink at 100 Roofs Café. Built in the same vein as the Crazy House, it’s a little bit mad (and fun!)