Touring Da Lat, Vietnam
We're going to be hard pressed to really recommend any "must do" things in Dalat, it's a quaint city but not quite up to the hype that we had heard about it.
Alright, let's get into it - Once we arrived into Nha Trang from the train the first thing we did was ask the hotel where we could go to book a bus to Dalat, luckily they said they could book one for us leaving the next day at noon. Had we tried to find a local agent, we probably would have then needed a basic understanding of Russian to book the trip, I'm not sure, but I will go out on a limb and state that English in Nha Trang is the third language spoken.
We booked the noon bus since it would be a 5 hour drive and our ticket included pickup at our hotel - that's bonus that made it worth booking through the hotel. If you've ever wandered around a bus station in southeast Asia trying to figure out which bus to take you'll understand. Honestly, a lot of bus stations are just dirt parking lots and buses aren't clearly marked as to where they are going, you will rely on the kindness of strangers - it'll work out in the end, but the stress isn't worth the extra few dollars it costs for a hotel pickup. That said, we had expected a 11am pickup and so we were in the lobby by 10:40, but at 11:45 we started to get worried (actually earlier but for story purposes let's pretend I didn't worry and that we were a unified front believing that it would all work out). Since the hotel had our information they let us know the driver was stuck in traffic, we were still worried thinking that the bus left the station at noon and we were getting really close to missing it. That's on me, forgetting yet again that Asia doesn't run on schedules like the western world, but when they finally came it turned out that the actual bus came to pick us up and after a few other hotel pickups we were on our way.
The bus ride was nice, you get a water and then sit back and watch the countryside go by. Twenty minutes and you're out of the city and passing rice paddies before you start the climb up into the mountains. This part is beautiful, except for the 30 minute delay that we had where they had to stop traffic to clear a recent landslide that mostly blocked the road.
They're doing a lot of construction to widen the road, and presumably make it safer, so who knows what caused the landslide issue they had - I'm going it was a man made accident.
The bus we had dropped everyone off right at the lake that is the center of DaLat, there were taxi's waiting there and plenty driving by so getting that final leg from the bus to your hotel part of your trip is easy.
We picked a hotel that was a bit outside the main area, the reason we didn't book a return bus is that they couldn't get us a hotel pickup, but once we were there it was a quick 5 minute taxi up over a hill and to a wonderful French looking estate. We checked in - another beauty of this being a quick trip based from Nha Trang - we left both our suitcases at the hotel, we booked a night with them on our return, and just traveled with a single backpack. Dalat De Charme Village, it's worth the stay - it was in it's 4th month and we were the first American and Canadian to stay there. From there we walked up the hill for a nice meal of grilled and fried squid at a local restaurant.
So here's the rest of it - all of must do sights are outside, waterfalls, temples with pagodas, and the like - with only one full day in the city we weren't signing up for these day trips. I'm sure they are worth it, maybe, but we wanted to just see the city. This is the city that we were told was beautiful 11 years ago, maybe we should have gone then. The ride in is beautiful until you get close to Dalat, then it's just greenhouse after greenhouse surrounded by deforestation of the surrounding countryside. All of the greenhouses are covered in this red dust from all of the bare hillsides. The city seems like it was quickly overly built up, no thought process or planning to it. There is amazing old architecture, but it's surrounded with the quick-built new. We found interesting places, but nothing so amazing to write home about, we just sat there and said "We really should have come 10 years ago, I wonder what it was like when we heard that it was a beautiful city..."
Okay, so not nothing worth writing about - they have a train station that doesn't go anywhere other then run a tourist train. It cost money just to see the station, it's worth the walk around, but we didn't stick around to take the tourist train.
We found a bar called the Maze Bar (100 Roofs) which is worth a mention just for how different and cool it is, but it's not worth a trip to the city just for these items. We stepped it up and dined at the Dalat Palace Hotel before heading back to the hotel for the night.
That's my review - worth it, not for us. Maybe with the side visits to the waterfalls if you've never been someplace to see waterfalls. What we did that I'd recommend, is that we booked a smaller limo van bus ride back. This cost us an extra $4 USD per person, we still got picked up at our hotel (about 50 minutes late again, but I won't detail my stress) and the small 7 person van was quicker, more comfortable, and provided better window views of the scenery.
So that's my take away, if someone tells you to go somewhere, don't put it on a list to see in the future, go as soon as possible to see what it is they are excited about. Places change, people change, people change places, it's good and bad, but for this trip I'd say the change was for the worst.