I felt sad to leave Mui Ne after 4 wonderful days but we have to move further going north to explore more of Vietnam. Next stop: the highlands of Dalat. From Mui Ne, we booked a ticket for 90,000 dong (US $5.14) each. As the norm in most travel agencies where you book your bus tickets in Vietnam, the bus company would pick you up from your hotel. The convenience for such a cheap price!
We took the afternoon bus leaving Mui Ne and arrived Dalat at around 6pm. If you don’t have a prior booking to any hotel or guest house, the bus would drop you off to their partner hotel. Our bus dropped us off at Binh Yen Hotel. US $9 for a double room. Not bad since the place was newly opened and clean. We wanted to stay near the city center so we decided to check Lonely Planet recommendation, Hoa Binh Peace Hotel. The double room for US $8 got 2 large beds with mosquito nets, TV with no English channels, a balcony, hot and cold shower. It’s big enough to be shared by 4 people. Air conditioning is not necessary in Dalat. We were there in the middle of summer. We didn’t even switch on the fan at night.
The cafe downstairs offers good value and tasty Vietnamese and some European dishes. When we had our first dinner there, it felt like we weren’t in an Asian country. No other Asian in sight except for the staff and us, of course. All were Western looking, in pullovers and shawls. It was a good place to meet other travelers and share travel stories. We had fried pasta with pork and vegetables for 30,000 dong (US $1.71), fresh vegetable spring roll for 25,000 dong (US $1.42), chicken schnitzel for 40,000 dong (US $2.28) and ginger tea for 5,000 dong (US $.28).
The Peace Hotel we were staying, which is supposed to be the original and the other Peace Hotel beside it, is the hangout of the Easy Riders, a group of men who works as tour guides with big bikes and speak good English. They would offer to tour you around the city for US $15 or the countryside for US $20. These guys can even take you all the way to Hanoi in 5 days on their bikes for a whopping US $750! Way out of the budget. They can be very convincing as they would show you testimonials with photos of previous travelers who had joined them for long trips. One Easy Rider, David Khoa, prevailed upon us that we booked a countryside tour the next day.
Our first morning should definitely be a tour of Cho (market) Dalat and that’s where we had our breakfast too. We had Curry Chicken Noodle for 17,000 dong (US $.97) and Rice Soup with Liver for 15,000 dong (US $.85). Vietnam food is really good and cheap! For some dessert, we tried a mixed fruit shinto for 7,000 dong (US $.40). Breakfast for 2 for less than US $2.50!
We then explored Dalat further by renting a motorbike for 50,000 dong (US $2.85). It was so much fun to explore a new place by motorbike! We drove around the lake at the town center then decided to follow the suggested itinerary in Lonely Planet. We drove through the winding Highway 20, Prem Mountain Pass, 2 pagodas, Mimosa Hotel then back to Dalat town. Back in town, we drove to take a look at the Crazy House and Bao Dai Palace. I highly recommend trying the street food around the lake. Since the temperature was starting to drop by sunset, we had thick soup with mushroom and quail egg for 5,000 dong (US $.28), grilled spring roll wrapper cooked with egg also for 5,000 dong and the beef with white radish again for 5,000 dong.
Second day dinner was at the Wild Sunflower. Not as good as I expected. The fish in clay pot I ordered was a bit salty. The street food we had was way better.
The trip with our Easy Riders Khoa and Khoan started at 8:30 am on our third day in Dalat. First stop was at a Buddhist Temple.
Next was a visit to several plantations: coffee, various vegetables, onions, strawberries and a variety of flowers.
Then we went to a silk making factory. It was interesting to know that for each silk thread, 10 cocoons are needed. The cocoons were soaked in hot water so the silk can be easily spooled. The silk shawls the factory were selling was inexpensive, around US $4.
Last stop before lunch was the Elephant Falls. It was a nice place to hang around but we had to hurry because it looked like it was going to rain.
It did rain so heavily but we were lucky. We have arrived at the lunch place when the rain fell. The lunch was like a buffet! A number of dish were served to us, all for only 120,000 dong (US $6.85) split among 4 people! We waited for almost an hour for the rain to stop after which we went to a house where the family makes their own rice wine.
Our last destination for the day was the Crazy House. This unusual architecture has been in the top 10 weird houses in the world.
It was designed by the daughter of one of Vietnam’s political leaders.
The rooms are rented out and one can choose to stay at the Kangaroo room, Bamboo room or the Gourd room. No two rooms are alike.
Over all, I find the US $20 each fee for the countryside trip a bit expensive. Some of the places the Easy Riders took us can be easily reached on our own by motorbike. Their spiels during the tour were very generic too. Something which can be found on another guidebook or on the internet.
Our fourth day in Dalat, we again rented a motorbike but this time, we rent at Peace Hotel since they gave us an offer we can’t refuse. 45,000 dong (US $2.57) for a brand new orange motorbike. 5,000 dong less than where we rented the previous day. It’s not much but the savings would go to petrol expenses.
We went to Bao Dai Palace, paid 8,000 dong (US $.45) for entrance fee to see how the past ruler of Vietnam lived. It was a huge and airy mansion where Bao Dai and his family used to live. It was explained in the tour that only the eldest son, Bao Long, can join the parents for meals in the lavish dining room. The other siblings have their meals in a simpler and smaller dining area. It is only after meal time that the whole family get together in the sitting room. Quite an unusual set-up for dinners.
We ended our last full day in Dalat by taking the old train to Thap Cham. Round trip tickets are sold at the Ga Dalat for 80,000 dong (US $4.57). Upon reaching Thap Cham, we just went to a pagoda and walked around the small town.
Dalat is a good place to relax and escape the humid weather of Saigon. It is also a nice place to join a bike tour because of the temperate climate and beautiful mountain scenery. A must stop for those who have enough time to explore more of Vietnam.