When it comes to Vietnam, the backpacking route that most travelers take is pretty simple: Saigon, Mui Ne, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, and Hanoi, with a stop in Halong Bay. Maybe because its less talked about and more difficult to get to, many people skip Da Lat. Big mistake. Along with Sa Pa (also skipped by many), Da Lat was one of my favorite places in Vietnam by far. The people are so friendly, the city center is lovely, and there are so many activities.
Where to Stay
Backpacking accommodation options in Da Lat are unique in that they are mostly homestays with friendly and personable hosts. They usually include free breakfast and family dinner nights. I stayed at Lucky D’s Hostel, which I cannot recommend enough! Lucky was such a friendly man who cooked for us some nights and took us out to dinner other nights, often on his own dime. He also did our laundry for us and really made us feel at home.
What to Do
I found that there was a seemingly endless amount of things to do in Da Lat. Even just walking around the city is very pleasant as the people are so friendly and there is a beautiful lake, where you can sit and sip from a bottle of the local wine. Every evening there’s a night market, which sells very affordable fake “North Face” jackets and sweaters (which you’ll need here) as well as handmade goods.
While Da Lat isn’t as much of a party town as some other cities in Vietnam, I enjoyed the nightlife here much more. There’s a place called 100 Roofs Cafe, also known as Maze Bar, and it may have been the most fun I’ve ever had at a bar. It’s five or so stories of twists, turns, and little nooks; a full-on maze. Definitely not a place that locals frequent but a great place to get lost, meet new people, and laugh.
While I adored the city of Da Lat, my favorite parts of my stay were actually my day trips into the highlands. On my first full day I went canyoning (~$30), which involved abseiling down cliffs and waterfalls. The tour also included sliding down waterfalls! It was such a blast and the falls were beautiful. It’s geared towards beginners so don’t let fear hold you back!
On a different day we booked Mr. Rot’s Secret Tour. As the name implies, we didn’t know what we were getting into but other backpackers I met were raving about it. While I don’t want to ruin the surprise, I can tell you that this was one of the best tours I’ve ever taken and they stray away from the touristy in favor of the authentic. The tour guide himself once belonged to a local tribe so he knows what he’s doing. Furthermore, Mr. Rot and the other guides bring so much humor and life into the trip that it’s impossible not to have a good time. Book at the Villa Pink House and try not to do too much research or you’ll ruin the surprise!
What to Eat
We ended up not paying for many meals since they were either included in our hostel or in the tours we booked. However, we thoroughly enjoyed the street food that we did try. If you walk through the local mall, you’ll find an abundance of authentic local food options on the other side. When we went, we were the only Westerners there! Bún riêu was a dish that really stood out and seems to be more popular here than in other Vietnamese cities.
How to Get There
Unfortunately, Da Lat is a bit difficult to get to because of its location in the mountains. We got a bus from Mui Ne, which took about 6 hours and was fairly painless (and a bargain at $4). However, if you’re coming from the North it’s a much less comfortable ride. Upon leaving, we took the bus to Nha Trang, which was about four hours but very bumpy and dangerous. The bus drivers here are a bit aggressive, which leads to a lot of swerving and short stops.
Your other option is to fly in/out. The local airport has flights to Danang (a quick bus ride from Hoi An), Ho Chi Minh, and Hanoi.