Erin, I adore this picture.

One of the best and most relaxing adventures of my summer was my return trip to Da Lat, in the Central Highlands of Vietnam – Land of 1000 Pines and Former French Colonial Playground.

Not only is the weather here just ridiculously comfortable (a mild 70’s during our visit in July), but it was an excellent last hurrah with my friend Erin and a great experience for my friend Lisa visiting from NYC.

It’s truly a must-see if you’re looking to experience a few of the sheer variety of climates and environments in Vietnam.

Some of the great things we did included: staying at one of the world’s most unique guesthouses, visiting pagodas and flower parks, discovering secret trails into the hills originating in the cemetery, frolicking among lush jungle waterfalls, doing the central Market on a Sunday, and generally wandering around this picture-perfect painting of a town, far away from the sweltering heat of Ho Chi Minh City to the south.

It was SO COLD… seriously,
like at least down to 70 F.
Scarf and fire weather.

True, I was brutally sick with a stomach bug for the first day and a half (including a really, really precarious sleeping bus trek. Sorry about your bathroom, Da Lat bus station – but seriously, you should be sorry about it too: thank god I carry toilet paper with me).

(BTW: Hello Erin’s Family – this post is for you!!)

Not a lot of reading today, it’s been a long week and I’m tired of looking at these summer posts stuck in Draft Purgatory. Plus, I pretty much detailed everything I liked about Da Lat in my 2013 post, which you can find here if you haven’t memorized everything I’ve ever posted.

Check out a photo album of my Last Vietnam Hurrah with Friend Erin, and the beginning of my Vietnam Adventure with Lisa, below!

Waterfalls and the Vietnamese Machine

A) Another great band name. B) Who doesn’t love waterfalls??

Erin, Lisa and I stopped here first thing and spent a great portion of our morning wandering around, taking pictures, and eating food.

Vietnamese Machine in action at the top of this post! It takes you all the way down to the bottom of the ravine, where you can peruse the various waterfalls.

Lookin’ good, ladies!
This ones for you, Erin’s Brother. …I don’t get it, but that’s normal.

Truc Lam Pagoda

I’ve already detailed a visit here fairly extensively last year, so I’ll just post a few amusing tidbits that I missed the first time around.

Feel Special – we foreigners drivers are basically bike-helmet-and-ketchup morons to them. But special parking!
Good lord, the BEAUTY! It is a salve for the soul. More fog please.
PLEASE KEEP POND OUT OF YOUR CHILDREN. Excellent advice, in any country.

Da Lat Market

The central market is a great place to visit for two reasons:

  • There’s a stunningly awesome vegetarian restaurant (as well as a number of other well-trafficked establishments) on the second floor of the main market (not the building in back with the massive stairway up the center, but the old building in front. Staircases are in the corners). NOTE: I’ll be covering Vegetarian Vietnam in another post, don’t worry.
  • It’s way less aggressively touristy than my usual market haunts in HCMC. Nice change of pace.
Buy food here! And be sure to go on Sunday morning if you can.
Fresh Donuts. Go back for seconds. Or thirds. Or, in this fatty’s case, fourths.
Lisa, you should know that the one I gave you did not have your name on it… I was lying. 
You just popped around the corner at the right time.

Rent a Bike, Do the Town

Da Lat, 2013, was where I first learned to ride a motorbike, and it’s really the perfect locale to do that. There’s less traffic, you can easily get out of the city into the twisting, winding hills and lakes that make up the surrounding countryside, and there’s genuinely a ton of interesting stuff to explore.

Coming up this back alley incline almost killed my bike.
I had to last-minute shove Lisa off the back
so we didn’t backslide all the way down!
DO: circle the lake at night, get off, and peruse the lush gardenscapes.

The Hardest Restaurant to Find in Da Lat

I know, I know – it’s not exactly easy to find addresses anyway in this country. But Dalat Train Villa & Cafe takes the game to a whole ‘nother level – it took 2 smartphones and 3 loops past the alley (that leads to another alley that leads to the driveway of the restaurant) – and it was so completely, totally worth it. SCRUMPTIOUS.

It was in a train car!
Drip Coffee. A minor miracle on a cold morning.

Da Lat Flower Park

A park for flowers, trees, shrubberies, and bonsai trees. Erin found it unutterably boring…

I love bonsai. You’re missing out, Erin. On… well, I don’t know, something though.

…BUT HOW CAN YOU NOT BE COMPELLED BY THIS?!?

CUJO VERDE.

Many Cemeteries

We also discovered that we all enjoy cemeteries! What a lovely surprise!

The one above was a war memorial for soldiers. It wasn’t the one we wanted to see, though…

It looks like a magical little village. Of the dead.

…Wait, THAT’S the one we want to go to!! But how to get there? Adventures awaited.

I love that they look like little houses.

Finally arrived. It took a while. It was a really great cemetery.

Not always conventionally pretty, but lots to see (just like me).

And, oh my god, there’s a path into the wilderness. Let’s explore.

YO DA LAT! LOOKIN’ GOOOOOOD GIRRRRRRL. DAT FOG. DOZ STEPPES. MMMMM

We hiked for hours, leaving our bikes at the top of the highest hill of the cemetery. We got a few weird looks when we came back out of the woods, but it was so worth it…

For this.

And this.

And even this (someone’s temporary pad? We suspected so).

New adventure time, though… when we got back to the cemetery spot where we locked our bikes, my rental wouldn’t start! Which actually just meant I got to coast downhill all the way out of the cemetery and to this repair shop. Just as much fun as you think it was (a ton).

Where we saw this:

Pig in a bag. IT WAS ALIVE. Sometimes my life here is so surreal I can’t even believe it. Thank god the Pig In A Bag Man had a flat tire that afternoon. I wonder where they were headed? I hope it’s a truffle hunting pig (Vietnam has – of course – the weirdest variety of mushrooms I’ve ever seen).

Da Lat Has a Birdwatching Club?

Ok, why not.

My only question is, why swords? They’re birds. We presumably want to watch them, not skewer them. …right?

And a coat of arms? Sure, Because Vietnam, That’s Why.

Downtown Greenway

Da Lat also has a ridiculously lush downtown area centered around a canal and lake. Lisa and I spent a morning poking around and taking shots of this crazily photogenic area.

This park just kind of… ended. Unfortunately, we approached from the wrong end. So… I guess this is where it starts?
Good heavens, that’s pretty.
Suspiciously pretty… Yup, too pretty. Bunch of missing planks in the middle.
Just… wow. I love it.

Lisa totally nailed the description: Like a Central European city imagined by Miyazaki. I would live in that world. And not just because there’s probably sprites hiding in the most unusual places.

That’s actually a more insightful comment than she realized: Da Lat was initially commissioned and built by the French Governor of Indochina, so the Euro vibe is not really an accident. It’s remained a magical place.

Try and ignore that eyesore in the upper righthand corner. The rest of the city is just marvelous.

And that about sums up my latest trek to the Central Highlands. I absolutely love this town, and I know I’ll be back at least one more time before I leave this country in 2016, if only because this weather is only 8 hours away by bus.

That being said, it’s currently -6 C in Chicago, and I’m absolutely cursing the fact that I forgot my scarf in Vietnam. I mean, I only have, like, 3 items that keep me warm there. Of course I forgot the important one.

Did I miss anything (bearing in mind that I didn’t really want to do many repeats of my 2013 trip)? Lash out at my stunning ignorance in the comments below!