If you only have time to go to one place in Vietnam, I’d highly recommend Dalat.
After a 3-hour journey through the mountains, Dalat greeted us with cooler temperatures, lower humidity and warm sunshine. The air felt cleaner and spring was alive and well in this town.
Dalat is known to some at the “Honeymoon Capital” of Vietnam and I can see why. There are things to do and see that would be a great way to spend a honeymoon. Also, it felt like the tourists were sticking to the beaches and didn’t have much time for this pit-stop. All the better for us!
Originally the French aristocrats’ playground, Dalat was a place for the wealthy elites to retire to in order to escape the heat and noise of Saigon. It’s no small town now, but some of the French architecture still remains and the place felt distinctly different (dare I say: more European?) from the other parts of Southern Vietnam we’d toured on the trip.
Jackson and I checked into the “Sleep in Dalat” Hostel located on a tiny street that took us a while to find: even Google Maps was baffled. The room was nice and in a good location and cost about $30USD/night for our own room. Breakfast included.
On the recommendation of Nicole, a friend I knew in college, and who is also a travel aficionado who had been in Vietnam for a while and was incredibly generous with her tips and advice for Vietnam, Jackson and I decided to check out “Crazy House.”
“Crazy House” is a hotel, but I think calling it that would limit what it actually is. It’s a work of art, really. Dang Viet Nga is the architect and based her insane building on Antoni Gaudi’s style of architecture as found in Barcelona, Spain. I think this building is more like Gaudi, Tim Burton and Salvator Dali all got together and had a crazy marathon of designing based on what their interpretation of what a tree should look like if the tree was larger than life and fed nothing but nightmares and the holiday-themed fever dreams of little children.
Does that give you an idea of what this place is like? Because pictures won’t do it justice.
If you ever get a chance: go see it. Tickets were 40,000 Dong (a little less than $2USD) or you could stay there for about $35-70USD a night. There were a bunch of Russian and Chinese tour groups streaming around the place, but even that couldn’t ruin what was a truly wonderful trip.
The next day we booked a tour with “Mr. Rot’s Secret Tour” on the advice of Nicole. By this point, Felix (our German firefighter friend from Nha Trang) showed up again. Deciding he was done with the beaches in Vietnam he joined us in Dalat and agreed to go on the tour with us. I can’t go into too much detail about what happened. I can tell you that it was life-changing. In a nutshell: Mr. Rot’s nephew who called himself “Jessica” (LOL) took us on a relatively touristy route through the mountains of Dalat. I enjoyed seeing some of the markets and learning about customs of the locals. The second half of the tour is where Mr. Rot showed up. There were 7 of us having lunch when this flamboyant, hard-as-a-rock, bald man shows up and serenaded us in Vietnamese. He immediately primped and fluffed the girls’ hair and gave Jackson an massage. Then he took us to a secret place and was our guide through a really wonderful evening.
After the tour, Felix leaned in to tell us that he was glad no one had told him about what happened on the tour. “It was nice to not have any expectations.” He said. Jackson and I agreed. I think every tour is different and were I to go into what happened it would ruin some of the magic of the experience. Go. Do it. Or, if not, send me an email or call me and I’ll tell you what happened!
Tickets were 800,000 Dong (about $35USD each) and the tour lasted all day. We were picked up at the “Pink Villa” Hotel. You can book a ticket directly with Mr. Rot.
On our last day in Dalat, Jackson and I were having a late breakfast at the hostel when we struck up a conversation with another American couple from Austin, Texas. Ayla, a social worker, and Benton, who works in marketing, invited us to join them as they went to check out the “Valley of Love.” Why not?
“The Valley of Love” further proved the reason why Dalat is considered a honeymoon capital. It’s a sprawling garden of flowers, animal figures, and heart-shaped shrubs. The theme is love and it shows. It was a 15-minute taxi ride from downtown Dalat which cost about 55,000 Dong ($2USD). The tickets to the park were 30,000 Dong each (about $1.50USD). We spent a good couple hours wandering around. It was nice to be in a park with trees, quiet and a place to relax. The 4 of us chatted about current events, marriage, being a couple while travelling, and how ridiculous the thousands of plastic animal statues were. Is a field of pink flamingos meant to be an aphrodisiac?
After lunch, Jackson and I took a walk around town touring the lake as we digested and talked about what life will be like once we’re back in The States (a popular subject between the two of us). The lake in Dalat is weird. I’m not certain, but I think people dump bags of fish into the lake in the hopes of gaining good karma or for wishes. Whatever the reasoning, the lake is filled with dead fish. It’s disgusting. At one point, a woman got off a motorcycle and dumped a bag of what looked like goldfish into the lake. I looked sideways at Jackson and wondered how many minutes it would take for the goldfish to either get eaten or go belly-up.
We chanced on the “City of Flowers” which is a large botanic garden that had a strange looking entrance. Intrigued, we stopped in (for 10,000 Dong a person~ roughly 50 cents USD) for a look. This had nothing on “The Valley of Love”. The flowers were nice, but we were tired. Sitting near a green, soupy-looking lake with swan paddle-boats available for rent, Jackson and I agreed that we were ready to leave Vietnam. Dalat was nice, but almost 3 weeks in Vietnam and I felt bone-tired. Maybe it was the constant traffic? The polluted lakes? The fear of more food poisoning? The shitty WiFi? All of the above? I was looking forward to a new chapter.
Felix invited us for one last drink at the bar called “100 Roofs” which felt like a spin-off of “Crazy House.” The bar had a million different rooms, staircases, and painted creatures everywhere. It was really dark, a huge fire hazard and anyone could get lost in there. I loved it. Again, pictures can’t do it justice, but watching Jackson climb through holes and then getting the much larger Felix to do so as well was a memory I won’t forget easily! This place was really worth the visit.
We had a great time in Dalat, overall. I was looking forward to leaving Vietnam, however. Felt like we needed to leave on a “high note” after Dalat.