Most know vietnam for either north (Ha Long Bay or Sapa) or south (Saigon/Ho Chi Minh) but this trip we decided to take the road a bit less traveled and explore south central. We planned 10 days 9 nights two overnight buses and many connections that would take us from Ho Chi Minh all the way up to Hue.
Day 1: 14 hours in Ho Chi Minh
Taking the airport bus into the city our first stop of the morning is Vo Van Tan street-along this street you’all find many local eateries and coffee shops. After breakfast it starts to heat up fast – we hop into one of the tour agencies, book the overnight bus to Da Lat and then grab a city map and head for the road. By then the heat is quiet intense so we drop by the movie theater. First time seeing double decker motorcycle parking! It’s a good thing we can reserve seats because the theater is PACKED. They also have not designed a very efficient system for entry and exit. In true Ho Chi Minh fashion, everyone rushes in and out all at once. After the movie we meander through the malls and steet shops. I really didn’t enjoy the pushy nature of the vendors at Ben Thanh Market – rather we enjoyed strolling through the streets popping to clothing shops which caught our eye. For North Face factory rejects at great prices, go to U.Best close to the backpacking district. We found the store owner to be honest and gave us good prices – you’ll just need to be lucky with the sizes!
Overnight bus from Ho Chi Minh to Da Lat 270,000 VND
Given the time of year we went (shortly after Vietnamese New Year) the prices for just about everything is inflated. The bus departs Ho Chi Minh at 10 PM and arrives at 6 AM – our bus driver is a boss and we actually arrived at 4 AM.Taking the overnight bus is certainly an experience! I was surprised by how clean they kept the bus. You must take off your shoes when you board. Ideally, you’ll want to keep all your valuables in a day bag and put your big bag underneath. There really isn’t much space on the bus besides the seats and very narrow aisle. Each person gets their own row and the seats recline almost all the way down. I’m 5’2 and my feet were barely hanging off the edge. The inside also reminded me of of Virgin America’s neon violet interior.
My first impression of Da Lat was not what I was expecting. I thought Da Lat would be a small town nestled into a mountainous area of Vietnam. In reality Da Lat is best explored by motobike and it’s much better maintained – streets outside of city center are clean, traffic round abouts are decorated with flowers and the main streets have some of the biggest houses I’ve seen in Vietnam so far. It’s at least 10-20 degrees cooler here in comparison to Ho Chi Minh so bring a windbreaker. Ironically, today is Valentine’s day and we are romantically spending it in the lobby of our homestay because we arrive too early for the room to be ready.
Pongour Waterfall entry fee 10,000 VND, parking 5,000 VND
We rent a motobike for the day and head off to our first destination Pongour Waterfall. It’s 50 km from Da Lat and takes us about 1.5 hours on motorbike with stops in between. My first impression of this fall is that I love how there are not many tourist. Most visitors are local Vietnamese. We take the sloping walkway down to the opposite side of the falls. From there I caught this gorgeous panoramic and happily munched on Banh Mi.
After lunch we transverse to the opposite side of the falls to get up close and personal. A few selfies later we dried our feet off and started up the stairs heading back. The staircase splits out to the top tier of the falls and from there, you get another perspective of the top of the falls.
Elephant Waterfall entry fee 10,000 VND, parking 5,000 VND
30 km from Da Lat – our next stop is Elephant Waterfall. I love how the steps precariously lead you down the rocky valley to the foot of the falls. The half exposed rhubarb and broken steps make make the short journey to the falls fun. When you hit a junction you can choose to go left which leads you through a narrow crack between two boulders and an incredible “behind the scenes” view of the falls.
Then back the way we came and going right this time leads us to the front view of the falls. It’s one huge cascading spill over and now we know why this fall got it’s name. I was worried that this fall would appear muddy and many reviews said there was a lot of trash everywhere. I was pleasantly surprised that it was clean and there weren’t too many others around.
After Elephant falls we explored the city. Amidst the crazy markets with locals and motobikes peppered everywhere we rode around the lakeside and spent some time near Da Lat collage and abandoned schoolyard.
Our final morning in Da Lat we stop by a local breakfast spot. The owner cooks quail eggs and flour mixture over a clay cooker. She let us know two orders will be 2000 VND invites us to sit on the tiny stools and casually goes about her work. She continues to talk to a local customer – putting the pockets of egg pancakes directly into her bowl. The egg pancakes are served with a clear lightly sweet sauce with chili and chives. It’s delicious. Full from breakfast we finish the meal with an ice cold coffee. Douglas fits in like a local. 🙂