After Mui Ne, we continued our journey north and went inland to the mountain city of Da Lat.
Da Lat was founded by the occupying (besetzt) French in the early 20th century as a resort town to escape the heat (Hitze) and humidity (Luftfeuchtigkeit) of the lowlands of Saigon and the rest of southern Vietnam. At 1,500m (4,900ft), Da Lat sits at an altitude almost identical to that of the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia which we’d visited earlier in our trip. We were hoping for more beautiful scenery and outdoor activities to do. We weren’t disappointed (enttäuscht).
The bus from Mui Ne set off at 07:30 and took around four hours to climb the steep (steil) roads up to Da Lat. On arrival, two men (Zhu and Hung) were waiting for us to transport us to Brother’s Hostel where we’d be staying for the next three nights. My bag fit in front of the seat where Zhu was sat but there was no such space on Hung’s moped for Tessa so she had to wear her big bag on her back and attempt to keep her balance (versuchen Balance zu halten) as we hurtled (rasen) through the (very) busy streets!
When we reached the hostel, we were a bit surprised to find that we were the only ones there! About ten people had apparently all checked out that morning so we had the place to ourselves at least until tomorrow. We were to find out later that evening that this was very much to our advantage (Vorteil)! More on that later.
After dumping our bags, we walked into the centre of the city, about 20 minutes away to find me a hoody (Kaputzenpullover) and some cheap shoes. My luck had finally run out in the losing-things-and-getting-them-back stakes as I’d somehow and somewhere lost my Nike trainers in Australia. We knew we’d be doing some activities that required proper shoes in the next few days so we traipsed around (rumlatschen) the various knock-off shoe shops and stalls in search of some half decent replacements (halbwegs annehmbarer Ersatz). This proved more challenging (herausfordernd) than initially (anfangs) thought.
The average male height (männliche durchschnittliche Größe) in Vietnam is just 5ft 5in (1.64m) which also obviously translates to shoe size. Almost every store we went in had nothing above an EU 42 (UK size 8.5) which made our search for a pair to fit my UK size 10 (EU 44-45) feet into a series of “well, they’re not thaaaat tight” fittings. Eventually we found a stall close to our hostel that had a size 45 which fit ok and I parted with 150,000 VND (£5.30, 6.20€) to become the proud new owner (stolzer neuer Besitzer) of a grey pair of Adidas-looking trainers with the three stripes down the side and a New Balance logo on the tongue!
One of the main reasons we’d booked into Brother’s Hostel was that all the reviews mentioned how you got free dinner as well as breakfast in the cost of the room. We’d been reminded that morning by the staff to be back at 6pm ready for our dinner so we made sure we were back in plenty of time hoping for a plate of fried rice or noodles to fill our bellies.
At 17:45, Mama (the owner of the hostel) came and told us our dinner was ready and we walked into the dining room to a table FULL of food! We had a big bowl of soup, a HUGE bowl of rice, a plate of fried noodles, cooked chicken, salad and a plate of fried potato-like snacks. All this was meant to be shared between our table for four but, as previously mentioned, we were the only ones there! We weren’t sure why they’d still cooked so much food just for the two of us but we ended up having one of the best meals of our entire trip!
Next morning, we woke up and were treated to fresh bread, butter and jam for breakfast. They really knew how to feed us well!
After breakfast, we hired a moped and set off on a tour of the city and surroundings (Umgebung). The speedometer (Tarro) and the petrol gauge (Benzinanzeige) didn’t work and the foot stand (Ständer) was loose (lose) but no bother, it’ll get us from A to B. Our first stop was the Bao Dai Summer Palace just to the south of the city centre. Bao Dai was the 13th and final emperor (Kaiser) of Vietnam, reigning from 1926 until 1945 when the Japanese (who had ousted (vertrieben) the French) surrendered (such ergeben) during World War Two. Bao Dai abdicated (zurücktreten/abdanken) the throne which historians say legitimised the independence movement of Ho Chi Minh and led to the Vietnam we see today.
As the name suggests, the palace was originally a holiday home for the Emperor and his family but after abdication, he lived semi-permanently at the Palace until he was exiled (ins Exil geschickt/vertreiben) to France in the late 1950s.
The house was originally constructed in 1937 in an art deco style with gardens surrounding all sides. The present-day interiors of the house have been preserved (aufheben/bewahren) and restored (restauriert) and, whilst it is now a little worn, the luxury the Palace once had is evident (offensichtlich). 25 rooms across two stories (Etage) provide an interesting insight into the life of former Vietnamese royalty.
Our next stop was to Robin Hill, south of the city, to go on the famous Da Lat cable car (Hochseilbahn). At under £3 (3.30€), the cable car is a very cheap way to see the city and surrounding countryside from the air. The views are really amazing and at the top is the Thien Vien Truc Lam temple. Truc Lam is a Zen Buddhism temple which currently has about 50 monks (Mönche) and 50 nuns (Nonnen) living and practising on-site. It includes some amazing examples of Vietnamese pagodas and is set in the middle of a forest (Wald) by a lake affording great views and a peaceful atmosphere.
We returned on the cable car, hopped back on the motorbike and continued our journey south of the city to the Datanla Waterfall.
Being so close to the city, Datanla Waterfall is one of the major tourist attractions of Da Lat and it has been built into an activity centre. We decided to partake in a bit of fun and took the railed toboggan ride (Sommerrodelbahn) down to the waterfall which was great fun although Tessa went first and was very slow and I had to keep braking (women drivers huh) (Tessa: “Pha, women drivers! Not my fault. I didn’t break!”).
The waterfall itself is a pleasant spectacle (angenehmes Spektakel) although not spectacular (spektakulär) but we enjoyed a walk through the rocks to the lower waterfall which most people seemed to ignore.
On the journey back towards Da Lat, the previously mentioned faulty petrol gauge (Benzinanzeige) came back to bite us. We’d foolishly (dummerweise) not checked the fuel level by opening the tank and as we drove up a hill, the engine spluttered and we ground to a halt (der Tank war leer und wit sind stehengeblieben). What a rookie mistake! (Welch’ Anfänger!) We were now a couple of kilometres away from the city and the nearest petrol station. I was just about to dispatch (losschicken) Tessa to walk on ahead whilst I pushed the bike when a very kind Vietnamese couple pulled up on their bike and asked the problem. “We will go get you some fuel. Wait here”, they said. Not longer than ten minutes later the Good Samaritans (barmherzige Samariter) returned with a litre of petrol to put into our tank. The receptacle (Behälter) they used to hold the fuel? A carrier bag (Plastiktüte)! He then proceeded to tear a little hole in the bag to pour the fuel into our moped! Either way, we were so so grateful that these lovely people stopped to help us and we took a picture with them (see below). After finally getting the bike started again, we headed to the fabulous Linh Phuoc Pagoda to the east of Da Lat. It is a magnificent (großartig) example of religious architecture and also featured a weird underground purgatory (Fegefeuer) walkway with creepy sounds and low light. All very entertaining for me but Tessa was a bit nervous!
We (finally) returned to Brother’s that night full of anticipation (Vorfreude) for our dinner and were pleasantly surprised to find we had a roommate! A French guy (who’s name we have shamefully forgotten) arrived that evening and joined us for dinner (although on a separate table with his own feast of food!) and he entertained us with stories of his travels. He’s told us he’s been on the road for five years, only returning to France for a couple of months a year to earn money and fund his next trip. He is from the Champagne region of France and is qualified to work in the grape (Trauben) production so will always have a well paid job when he needs it. Quite a life to lead!
We’d booked ourselves onto a canyoning tour and next morning we were picked up and taken back to Datanla Waterfall for a day of fun. Canyoning is simply navigating your way down a canyon. Whether that be via abseiling, swimming, hiking or any other means. That day, we would be starting with an 18m abseil down a waterfall. Not having abseiled before, I was a little nervous but found that once you get over the edge (Kante) and lean back (zurücklehnen), letting yourself down and jumping off the wall is fairly easy. Our guides Jerry, Nam and No were very supportive (unterstützend) and made us feel at ease (wohlfühlen). Great fun!
We next abseiled down a 15m wall and then had some fun with some natural water slides (Wasserrutsche) formed by the rocks in the canyon river we were travelling down. After trekking through the jungle for a bit we then did a free jump from 7m into the water (and then clambered (klettern) back up to jump it again). The final activity of the day was called the “Washing Machine”; a 14m abseil where halfway down you let go of the wall and rope yourself down into a powerful waterfall which pulls you under the water and spits you out (ausspucken) the other side. Quite an experience!
We returned home very tired and happy to be able to have a warm shower. And another fantastic dinner cooked by Mama and Grandma!
For our final full day in Da Lat we headed back to the Datanla Waterfalls area again, this time to do a high ropes course (Hochseilgarten) next to the waterfall site. A large forest area had been rigged (ausgerüstet) with high wires (hohe Drähte), tight ropes (feste Seile), cargo nets (Netz) and zipplines between the trees and we spent two hours working our way through the half-dozen different courses of increasing (steigend) difficulty.
An addition highlight of this activity was the fact that the instructors (about 12 of them) were (for some reason) all practising a dance routine on the ground close to the trees. With the same J-Pop style tune being belted out (schmettern) for the entire two hours, we had great fun watching them strut their stuff and sang along (mitsingen) to the song even though we had no idea of the lyrics! Possibly this was training for some presentation for the upcoming Tet New Year festival. Or maybe they just wanted to do some exercise. No idea!
Following the high ropes course, we set off to the north-west of Da Lat and to the Elephant Falls. Being a long way from the city (compared with ten minutes for the Datanla Falls), the Elephant Falls attracts a lot less visitors but is far more impressive. The water crashes down (herabstürzen) over 30m onto the floor below and the spray (Nebel/Tropfen) from the falls feeds all the grasses and flowers that form on the rocks around and below the falls giving it a real picturesque garden feel. From the top, you can see where great pillars of rock (ganze Felsen) have eroded (ausgewaschen) and fallen from the cliff face (sind vom Wasserfall abgefallen), settling on the river bed as though thrown like a stone. It is a spectacular sight to witness.
Rather than returning to Da Lat via the same route we came, we decided to loop round to the north of the city. This proved to be an excellent decision as the road passes through the mountain and makes for a fun, winding trip with amazing views of the mountains and valleys which border Da Lat. We stopped at a coffee plantation and I enjoyed a tasty cup of Vietnamese drip coffee looking out from their café terrace over a lake and green rice fields. A wonderful scene.
We continued our twisting journey home over the mountain pass and back into Da Lat to discover that many people had arrived at Brother’s Hostel that day! We shared dinner that evening with a Czech girl called Ivana before packing our bags and retiring early. We had a bus to catch at 7am the next morning and we’d be heading back to the coast and to Nha Trang.