Da Lat is the perfect weekend getaway from the likes of Ho Chi Minh City or Nha Trang. It’s a beautiful hill station in Lam Dong province that is home to many charming lakes, stunning waterfalls and romantic flower fields. While two days may not be fully enough, we’re still here to optimize your experience so you can enjoy as much as you can with the little time you have. Let’s get on with it.
Arrive in Da Lat on Friday night
There are many buses daily from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Lat, however if you want to have a full weekend in Da Lat, you should leave Ho Chi Minh City around 2:00 PM on Friday. The journey to Da Lat is around 8 hours long meaning you will arrive around 10:00 PM. From Nha Trang to Da Lat, the journey is shorter, and you can leave around 5:00 PM. What’s left to do is check-in to your accommodation.
There are many buses departing Ho Chi Minh City, at fixed time intervals, or you can always opt for a private car and be flexible with your time. Once you check-in, get some good rest because when you wake up early in the morning, you’ll have plenty to do.
First, get acquainted with the town (and customs)
Spend your morning wandering Da Lat town and getting acquainted with the hilly roads and colorful, French-style buildings. For breakfast, skip fancy restaurants and do as the locals do: grab a banh mi (Vietnamese baguette sandwich) and a ca phe sua da (iced coffee with milk) to go. The banh mi can be made with any filling that is available; just point your way through the ingredients displayed behind the glass. The coffee is also really strong. This combination is bound to wake you up and give you enough energy until lunch. The Lam Dong province is one of the major suppliers of coffee to the country (and the world), so you’re bound to get a cup of fantastic quality.
There are many sights to see around the city. The best way to get around Da Lat and to see as much as you can is by motorbike Luckily, the traffic here isn’t as bad as what you would experience in the likes of Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. You can ask your hotel to help you rent one and drive about, but only if you are an experienced driver and have the necessary permits. Otherwise, just stick to taxis. What’s cool here is that Grab, Asia’s equivalent to Uber, is available in Da Lat, so you can easily hire a motorbike taxi or a car to take you from place to place.
Spend the morning visiting sights such as the Da Lat railway station, a beautiful structure built in the Art Deco style during the French colonial period. Next, head to Crazy House. This aptly named house serves as a hostel and an art exhibition, the brainchild of owner Mrs. Dang Viet Nga. She’s been adding to the structure since 1990 and it’s made out of sculpted rooms in various shapes, sizes and colors, connected by unique bridges and surrounded by greenery. It almost gives off a Gaudi and Tolkien vibe.
Once that’s done, have your lunch at Goc Ha Thanh restaurant. This is a humble, family-run restaurant where you can expect authentic Vietnamese food. Order a bunch of dishes family style with a bowl of rice and get a few shots of rice wine to help you digest. We’d recommend the coconut chicken curry, sweet and sour mango chicken, stir fried morning glory, and a delicious bowl of pho noodles.
A relaxing afternoon of colorful flower fields, grazing horses and blue skies
For the rest of the afternoon, head over to Cu Lan village which is about 25 kilometers northwest of the city center. Cu Lan refers to an endangered tropical tree fern found here in Vietnam but it has another meaning too. According to legend, there once lived a man who fell in love with a woman and wanted to build heaven for her…with rocks. The villagers considered this a very idiotic action and started referring to him as Cu Lan. Now, cu lan literally means idiot in Vietnamese.
In this village reside the K’Ho people, one of 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam. They have built modest stilt houses against the backdrop of beautiful Langbiang Mountain and live their lives peacefully here. Spend the afternoon here, walk around, snap photos at the flower fields, talk to the tribes people, catch some shade under the trees and make shapes from clouds as they pass by. You can also cycle around the village, fly kites, ride horses, and camp outdoors if you want to spend the night.
Come sunset, head back to the city, freshen up at the hotel and head out to experience the Da Lat night market. Here you will find various stalls sprung up, selling clothes and trinkets to delicious local delicacies. Banh trang nuong (also known as Vietnamese pizza) is a must-try. It’s essentially a crunchy flour pancake topped with all kinds of things from sausages and other minced meats to eggs, cheese, spring onion and various spicy sauces. Have some grilled sweet potato and grilled corn – healthy but delicious and you’ll be full soon enough. In the night market, you may even catch a performance or two that spring up randomly for the residents of the town. Head in to your hotel afterwards and get a good sleep in because you’ll be starting early again the next day.
A peaceful morning by the lake
Hop on your bike and drive to Tuyet Lam Lake, located a mere 7 kilometers away. There are many places in Da Lat where you can slow down your pace and spend a couple of hours getting lost in beautiful scenery, but this lake takes the cake. The vast lake is known for its clear waters creating a pristine mirror image of what’s above the surface.
It is not only a tranquil sight, but also offers many activities to partake in to pass the time. Keen to have a picnic? No problem! Just bring a mat and your basket of goodies. You can also go horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing, canoeing or camping overnight under the stars.
Don’t go chasing waterfalls, they said
From here, drive further down to Pongour Falls, which is one of the most majestic waterfalls in the central highlands of Vietnam. This majestic waterfall located 40 kilometers south of Da Lat city reaches a height of 240 meters and has 7 terraced layers, forming an almost poetic sight. If you’re hungry, no worries, there’s a very local hut right by the waterfall that serves rice and grilled chicken. Order this with a coconut and enjoy as you watch the waterfall roar a few meters away. When heading back, tackle Elephant (Voi) Waterfall as well.
You’ll want to head back to town before sunset as you still have quite a drive left and you don’t want to miss your bus back to Ho Chi Minh City. Make sure you grab some quick snacks before you board. If you decide to extend your stay, then the best way to end your hard day of driving is with a massage. Your butt will definitely welcome it.
If you can stay longer…
This itinerary can easily span three days, especially because there are plenty more places to visit in Da Lat, like the Cau Dat Tea plantations and Datanla waterfall where you can enjoy canyoning, a crazy off-road drive to Co Don pine tree, Langbiang Mountain, etc. There is also Xuan Huong lake that is worth a visit and if you’re into visiting cultural relics, then check out Truc Lam pagoda and Linh Phuoc pagoda. Of course, Da lat is the coffee capital of Vietnam, so how can you not spend a couple of hours reading a book while sipping a high quality cuppa at a charming cafe? There are many,so spend an additional day or two here – you won’t regret it.