With wallets emptied and backpacks filled to the max in Hoi An, we were ready for our next adventure. After a 40 minutes long flight from Da Nang (which was in fact more than twice shorter than the plane’s delay), we finally landed in Da Lat, a small town in the middle of wilderness.
From the airport, we decided to take a shuttle bus that suddenly transformed into a taxi as the driver uncovered a small meter, right at the city’s border. It was still cheaper than taking a cab, so we shrugged it off, only getting a bit worried when the guy got completely lost and looked for our guesthouse for about 15 minutes, until he surrendered and decided to call them instead. That turned out to be a more frequent problem – every taxi that we tried to take wasn’t really keen on arriving, so in the end – we walked. And we biked, Top Gear style.
If you ever saw the Vietnam episode, you probably remember the stunning views from the winding, empty roads – and that’s exactly what you see around Da Lat. The landscape is remarkable and there’s no way of doing it justice using just words. If you want to go there with a driver (which is a pretty good idea if you don’t want to miss out on the views focusing on the road, especially if someone learned how to drive a bike a week before), go with the famous Easy Riders, former motorbike-taxi drivers and war veterans who now operate various tours in Southern Vietnam.
Since the copyright law here is almost non-existent, you’ll have plenty of companies to choose from: Dalat Easy Riders, Easy Riders Vietnam, The Original Easy Riders, Easy Riders Tour, Easy-riders… that paints the picture pretty well. According to Rough Guides, the really original ones are these guys, and they were the ones we reached out to.
After a short e-mail exchange, everything was planned. Next day, our guides arrived – on professional long-distance bikes, with pretty good gear for both of us (helmets with visors, extremely useful against the wind and flies in your eyes; unfortunately not full-face). Together, we went to the country side and visited some of the most famous places in the province:
- The Linh Quang (Dragon Pagoda), where we admired the beauty of the oriental architecture, struggled with social taboos… and chased a dog with a camera (something we do quite frequently in here).
- Elephant Falls, where we had no dogs to chase. We slipped on the rocky, muddy steps next to the waterfall, got our heads and asses covered in dirt while going through narrow, natural corridors and jumping from one root to another, until we finally came to an amazing cave, right at the base of the waterfall. We were completely wet, muddy and tired from watching our every step – but it was well worth it. Our proud dropped a bit (again, like in Cat Ba), when we spotted a couple of Korean tourists taking the same route in flip-flops (seriously, that’s just impossible!), but we were still proud of our little achievement, especially because we got to see the breathtaking view down there.
- The tiny eatery on the outskirts, decorated with stuffed animals (horrible), where we got drunk by the locals who decided to invite us for a shot (or 5) of Russian vodka. We’re not sure how it ended up there, and we don’t know how we managed to have a conversation without speaking a word of each others languages, and yet everyone was happy.
- The flower farm, where… alright, the flower farm was not a very adventurous place, but we had to drive around in the middle of a rainstorm, so the road itself was quite thrilling. Packed in the plastic rain coats (manly one with a bank advert on it, girly one with cute teddy bears – not exactly your easy rider chic), we whirred on the slippery slopes of Da Lat countryside, heading to our mouldy, tiny room in the city, where our shoes were never meant to dry and acquired a new, rather unpleasant fragrance (but: $7/night, you can’t complain much).
Excited by our trip, we planned for the next two days to be filled with thrill and experience, but due to some lost taxis, unreplied e-mails and a tiny bit of laziness, we stayed in town, which turned out to be the best idea we could have – because otherwise we wouldn’t have spend so much time time in One More Café, and we wouldn’t have meet Lorelle – the charming co-owner of the place, and John, probably the most adventurous 60+ years old guy in all of Vietnam.
So what’s so remarkable about this little café? Everything was right up our alley, from the delicious food and tasty coffee to a warm, cozy atmosphere and the people who make it. It also didn’t take us more than a short while to be greeted by Lorelle – as soon as she saw us pointing out to the outside, she approached us to give some advice on where to find everything that we needed. This nice lady (older than our parents) had more to say about adventure and living your life to the fullest than an average 20-something person.
Next day we got chatted up by John – a guy who, approaching the age of 60, didn’t think about the things most people his age focus on: he decided to get a motorbike licence and head out for a South-East Asian adventure. More than two years after the trip, he was sitting with us in the middle of Da Lat, giving advice on what to see in Vientiane and where to get medical attention in Ho Chi Minh. He also introduced us to his project – handing helmets out to the local kids. There’s a huge issue behind it – Vietnamese traffic is horribly dangerous, and many people ignore it, not realizing the hazards of driving bikes without any protection. According to the law, only 6+ years olds have to wear a helmet, so no one buys them for their youngest kids. John’s organization focuses not only on protecting children, but also raising awareness of this problem. You can read a lot more about this project on John’s blog, where he also writes a lot about his life, motorcycles and trips.
While we weren’t busy working (eating) in OMC, we went for a couple of walks around the city and paid a short visit to the famous Crazy House (known also as the Hằng Nga guesthouse), a set of eccentric buildings straight out of a fairytale. Even though it was a bit hidden and you had to cross some smaller alleys to get there, the attraction itself was surprisingly entertaining – it’s bound to make your inner child happy and give you a bit of a thrill when going through narrow, high bridges between the roofs and different floors of the complex. For only 70.000 vnd you can spend there as much time as you want, and if you have more to spare and you don’t mind tourists looking into your windows, you can even stay for a couple of nights in one of the magical, themed rooms.
Unfortunately, our three days in Da Lat quickly came to an end – and before we even realised it, we were on our way to Ho Chi Minh, which would soon greet us with hundreds of rats and road insanity.