Sometimes the best places in the world are stumbled upon by accident…
Traveling in Vietnam during Tet (New Years Celebrations) may be a continuous mix of ups and downs. For example:
~ There is an air of excitement across the entire country … but bus tickets sell out quickly
~ Locals who work hard all year get time off to spend with their families … but many stores and restaurants are closed
~ There are fireworks and celebrations everywhere … but food and drinks are 3 times as expensive during Tet
And such is life, travel and adventure! Being in Vietnam during Tet was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but required a continuous look at the positive side of things. Everything was just a little bit more chaotic during Tet and getting from city to city was trickier (sometimes impossible). If you want to travel in Vietnam during Tet (dates depend on the lunar calendar) then try to buy tickets and accommodation early!
Jess and I had originally planned on catching a bus from Saigon to Nha Trang, but after getting caught up with site- seeing and meeting new friends we ended up in the ticket office with only a day before we wanted to head north. Moral of the story – DON’T DO WHAT WE DID.
The 1st ticket office told us they had no tickets from Saigon to anywhere north. We were shocked and weren’t keen on spending one of our 2 weeks left, stuck in Saigon. Fortunately though, the second ticket office we tried had a ticket to some place called Da Lat. We had never heard of it, but saw it on the big map behind the desk. It appeared close to Nha Trang and it was farther north. “We’ll take it!” we said.
Da Lat was about an 8 hour bus ride north of Saigon and provided a spectacular view of the country as we worked northward through the mountains. As we rolled into Da Lat I was instantly intrigued and began wondering why we hadn’t looked into this city already. Perhaps not expecting anything is the ideal approach to entering a new city.
We came to find out that Da Lat is a spectacular mountain city and maintains a significant backpacking community. During the 4 nights we were there, Da Lat became my favorite city in Vietnam. The mountain air was clean, the friendliness of the locals was inspiring and the never-ending scenery kept us in a state of awe. Coffee fields, mountains, valleys, lakes, lively bars, good barbecues and laid back people are just a few reasons why I plan on going back to Da Lat someday.
The US Dollar – 1 USD = 21,000 Dong (roughly)
Scooter Safety – Da Lat is yet another city in SE Asia that will let you rent a scooter regardless of your ability. It is a great opportunity to learn how to ride and Da Lat traffic isn’t quite as bad as other Vietnamese cities. Give it a shot, but just be careful and know that tons of tourists DO crash scooters and motorcycles and they always go down pretty hard.
Things to do:
Canyoning never leaves you disappointed! I’ve gone canyoning 3 times across 3 countries (Switzerland, UK & Vietnam) and this one was the most intense. 4 separate rappelling points, a 11 meter cliff jump and tons of opportunities to slide, splash, and swim down the river.
Weasel Sh*t Coffee –
Believe it or not this is actually a thing. I’m not sure who came up with the idea, but you have to try it when you’re in Da Lat. Basically, the plantations feed weasels coffee beans (which they apparently like), wait until they come out the other end, clean them off and then sell the coffee to tourists like you. I’m not sure it’s any better than normal coffee, but many people swear by it. My personal opinion: It’s okay.
Motorbike Day Tour –
The day I did this tour was my favorite day in Vietnam. Besides getting to ride a scooter around in the sunny mountains and hillsides of Da Lat, you also get to see almost all the attractions at the same time. I can’t recommend DaLat Motorbike Ventures enough. Our guide was hilarious, informative and entertaining … and it only costs $25 for the entire day! You can ride your own scooter or ride on the back of the guide’s motorcycle. During the tour you see everything listed below:
Elephant Falls –
Coffee Plantation –
Da Lat is massively famous for it’s coffee plantations. Whether you go with the motorcycle tour or not it is worth it to see the countryside surrounding the city. It’s peaceful, quiet and scenic beyond imagination. While you’re out there, try some Weasel Sh*t Coffee!
Happy Buddha (& Pagoda) –
Rice Wine Distillery –
Local Native’s House (minimalist living) –
I found this to be a pleasant surprise. We went out even further into the country and got the opportunity to visit a very old and minimalistic house, owned by a local Native Vietnamese man. He was very friendly, spoke french, and humbly allowed us into his home to show how he lives.
Silk Factory –
I had no idea how silk was made until going to this silk factory. It is fascinating! It starts with a silkworm and leads to little cocoons that are delicately separated and sewn together to create silk. It sounds boring at first, but you will never look at silk the same way after this 30 minute tour.
Eat Crickets at a Cricket Farm –
Vietnamese BBQ –
I always enjoy seeing how different countries interpret the art of Barbecuing. In Vietnam they put a curved heavy grill directly on top of an open flame. The grill is sloped down so fat and grease can drip off the end while raw food cooks over the fire. It is a hands-on, fun, group involving experience that you can’t miss. If you go to the hostel below (Tiny Tigers), chances are there will be a group night where everyone goes out to experience the local BBQ.
Crazy House –
We actually ran out of time and didn’t make it to this. It got mixed reviews from people in our hostel, but overall it rates well on Trip Advisor and sounds worth the experience. It sounds difficult to explain this place without having been there. Expect a bizarre experience and some weird stuff at this house. If you want you can even spend the night there.
It’s rare that I list specific places to stay under this section, but I would like to promote Tiny Tigers Hostel because they are one of the best hostels I have ever stayed at. The owner is incredibly nice and helpful and she runs the hostel with her husband (same guy who does the motorbike tour). They have a little guy running around too and he is super hilarious. If you’re looking for a tight-knit backpacking environment, incredibly cheap bed prices, and two people who will make sure your stay is perfect, try Tiny Tigers. Don’t forget to ask them how they decided on “Tiny Tigers” as a name!