Three Things Thursday; places to see in Da Lat

I recently got to spend an unexpected bonus six weeks travelling around Vietnam – o happy days – so this month I share with you three lovely places…

Da Lat market

Da Lat market

…you can visit in Da Lat, southern Vietnam.

The name Da Lat may ring unhappy bells for news followers. Several days after I was there in February the town hit international headlines for all the wrong reasons when a group of adventure-seekers encountered tragedy at a waterfall. This mountain idyll is a feature on the backpacker circuit of Vietnam because of its adventure sports opportunities, which include waterfall treks, zip lining and biking. Its mountain climate also makes it an attractive getaway for those based in HCMC, following in a long tradition set by the colonial French, who built their summer house getaways there.

Ensconced in the hilly Lam Dong province at 1500 metres, Da Lat is an 8 hour bus ride or one hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City. I picked up a $20 flight with JetStar, having read scare stories online about the bus journey. I later discovered that the people writing the scare stories were probably just unlucky as the bus journey is fine. Not being much of a one for adventure sports, I stuck to pootling around by rented pushbike, and found the town had plenty of more sedate sights to offer.

Thing 1 ~ the Crazy House

Probably one of the most accessible sights in the city is the mind-boggling Crazy House, more formally known as the Hang Nga Guesthouse. It’s design was inspired by – and is heavily redolent of – some of the famous Gaudi masterpieces sprinkled around Barcelona (Wikipedia), with winding stairways, dripping doorways, and whole areas still in progress. It is located down a quiet street on a hill in the south of the town, and you can spend a great couple of hours scrambling through the labyrinthine walkways which take you inside, outside, round, through and over the top of this hillside huddle of buildings. As well as feeling like Alice in Wonderland – or perhaps a twisted Disneyland – you can climb the rooftops for great views out over the city and surrounding mountains.

For a visit, tickets were a steal at 40,000 VND, or just under $2. If you really want an unusual experience, the Crazy House is also a hotel!

Thing 2 ~ Da Lat Flower Garden

I rented a very doddery but totally serviceable pushbike for the low low price of 60,000VND ($2.70) for the day and set out along the north shore of Xuan Huong lake from the bike rental place next to Lotteria. I came across the Flower Garden completely by chance and had to pop in. Entrance cost the nominal sum of 10,000VND (just under 50 cents) and was worth every penny. The gardens are nicely shaded, making it a great place to wait out the heat of the afternoon.

I was there the week following the lunar new year or Tet, so the flower displays were still vibrant shades of red and yellow, the colours of good fortune and happiness traditionally seen over Tet. An hour’s wander took me around a peaceful lake, through a shaded wood with some slightly out-of-place but nonetheless welcome statue scenes, birdhouses, a bonsai garden, topiaried dragons, and, at the top of the hill that borders the edge of the Gardens, a series of bonsai and general plant nurseries and flower shops. In a region that is famed for its flora, this was a refreshing way to pass some time.

Topiary Dragon

Topiary Dragon

Thing 3 ~ Linh Phong temple

Scaling the hills that radiate out from the lake on my rented bike was by no means easy. Neither was navigating using a mix of basic tourist map procured from the Tourist Information centre, badly connected Googlemaps, and terrible basic Vietnamese. So it is no great surprise that instead of ending up at my original destination, the Linh Phuoc pagoda, I ended up at the peaceful and remote Linh Phong temple. However, I was pleased by the result.

Rental bike

Rental bike and hills

I passed a merry hour or so as the only tourist in sight, being pointed around by a very obliging nun while the soothing chanting of other sisters at the temple rang around the complex.Heading through the temple compound and up the hill at the back I passed by a reclining Buddha hidden among the trees on the way up to a Lady Buddha at the top of the hill, bathed in the golden glow of approaching sunset. It was a great way to finish a day of sightseeing.

By bike, the Linh Phong is far easier to reach than the Linh Phuoc, although about 500 metres of the route back into town is rather too steep to cycle without gears. It is around 3km from the lake, and could make a great additional visit on the way to or from the cable cars if you plan your time right. It’s also free, although donations for the temple upkeep and community are welcome.

The links

Da Lat Tourist Information: http://www.dalat-tourist.com/

Read more about the unusual architect of the Crazy House on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hằng_Nga_Guesthouse

Or explore it through pictures on its website: http://www.crazyhouse.vn/index.php?lang=en

Googlemap pin for Linh Phong temple: Chua Linh Phong.

Da Lat sunset

Da Lat sunset

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