Tucked away in the mountainside, accessed by roads whose bumps have an ejector-seat effect, bouncing us up and almost straight through the roof, we find the town called Da Lat. It is a strange little place, so far removed from the rest of Vietnam that it has its very own micro-climate and an undeniable air of mystery. After our 18 hour bus journey we decide to opt for a chilled out afternoon and find our way to some cable cars that weave their way over the beautiful mountainside forest. I always think that there is something distinctly peaceful about looking out over mountains – I am not quite sure what it is but it always seems to have this effect, particularly when you are floating above them. Afterwards we visit a picturesque old railway station and then dodge our way around life-size Disney characters as we hunt down some dinner at the night markets.
The next day is decidedly less chilled out: yes I have signed myself up for Da Lat’s famous canyoning, and no I do not know why I have done this. At least I didn’t think I was signing up to do a casual morning of canoeing rather than canyoning, like the group of Spanish girls in our group did though! With zero canoes involved, the day actually involves being driven to a waterfall in the mountains to do some zip lining, 3 abseils, have a picnic lunch (really cute) and trek up to a viewing point before heading back to the safety of the hotel (thank goodness for that). The rationale behind this decision was that I don’t want to say “no” to anything (within reason) on this trip; I want to experience everything and I want to push myself out of my comfort zone. And this certainly did just that – there is absolutely nothing comfortable about abseiling down a waterfall if you are afraid of heights, particularly when your feet are sliding over the rocks and there is water splashing into your eyes, nose and mouth simultaneously. I drew the line at jumping off a cliff edge into an unknown depth of water though. Don’t let anyone ever suggest I am not sensible.
Another must-do in Da Lat is paying a visit to the Hằng Nga guesthouse, or the ‘Crazy House’. The old guesthouse, designed by architect Đặng Việt Nga, has been aptly described as “Gaudi meets Disneyland”. It is a fantastic throwback to my childhood imaginings whilst exploring the magical forestland (the little wood) down the road from my parents house. It is the sort of place you could imagine Willy Wonker loving and is like a sort of fairytale dreamland with hints of nightmarish ‘Grimm’ tales thrown in for good measure.
Afterwards we stroll down the road to An’s cafe, an adorable little place in which you sit on wooden swinging benches amongst vines and flowers to eat. It is an extremely cute cafe but unfortunately has decidedly less cute customer service. Which is totally fine so long as you aren’t in a rush and enjoy being ignored. Food was delicious though (when it finally arrived).
On our bus ride away from this unusual little town towards Ho Chi Minh, we pause at a set of traffic lights and I glance out of the window and see a solitary tree standing strong in the middle of a concrete parking lot. There is something strangely beautiful about this tree flourishing here; its sheer resilience and determination to retain its life and its beauty amongst such greyness and lifelessness is impressive. We are only in Ho Chi Minh for one night before getting the bus to Phnom Penh the following day, and after being convinced that joining a bar crawl will be the best decision we’ve ever made, we successfully only manage to see what this city has to offer in terms of the inside decor and cocktail selection of various bars. We fully intended to go to the war museum but maybe next time (whoops)!
So it is 1 month down, 1 country down and many more adventures to come. I have absolutely loved Vietnam with all of its lovely people, its magnificent countryside and its cities rich with culture and character. Vietnam really is vibrant in every way.
Up next: Cambodia.