Hue and Hoi An are not really that far apart so we explored yet another means of transportation in Vietnam. We really wanted to see the Hai Van Pass aka ‘Top Gear road’, which is famous because of it’s stunning views, so we arranged for a car and a private driver since neither of us really wanted to take the risk of driving a scooter in Vietnam. Honestly it turned out to be a good decision, we arranged and agreed up on some extra stops during our drive and made a daytrip out of it. We went to visit Lap An Lagoon, a very long lagoon, where they grow oysters and shrimps, and it was so peaceful, we stopped at Lang Co beach for a drink and a walk on the beach, it was nice and quiet there at 10.30 am. After that we drove the Hai Van Pass, which was ok traffic wise, since there is a tunnel since a couple of years which most of the locals are driving, because it’s much faster. At the top of the pass, there is a couple of remaining bunkers from the war, they’re used to climb on to stand on to look at the environment at the moment. Standing there you see at one hand side Lang Co Beach and at the other side the very quickly expanding and growing city Da Nang. Da Nang is really growing at an immense pace, probably because of the international airport nearby and millions of Koreans flying in each year because it’s only a 2-hour flight. The consequence is that pretty much the whole coast area is a construction site. We saw this the whole way from Da Nang to Hoi An as well. All the big hotel chains are building immense resorts in the area, which will of course bring wealth and money to the people, but I’m afraid that in 5 to 10 years the area will have completely changed and mass tourism will pretty much ruin things. Speaking to an Irish couple enjoying a couple of days off in Hoi An but working in Hanoi pretty much confirmed this. They told us that prices for property had gone up with 700% over the last 2 years and that the gap between the lower and middle and upper class was getting bigger pretty much every day.
The city is probably most known for its lanterns, which are truly unique and prominently present all around the area, but what many people don’t know is that Hoi An is also know for it’s superb food. There are so many local specialties; you just can’t eat them all. At least not within a couple of days, and believe me, we have tried. There are a couple of streets just outside the old quarter where there is one restaurant next to another, Vietnamese, Korean, Mexican, and many more. When visiting Hoi An, you really should visit the old quarter as where there is the shopping and street food area, it’s there where it all happens. Go there after 6PM when it starts to get dark, it’s only then you can see the beauty of all these lanterns shinning and when the street comes to live. Street food sellers are shouting and trying to attract as many customers as possible, especially foreigners, because if they eat their food, others will follow their example, and more customers means more income. Near the bridge you can take a small boat tour and on the river, which we didn’t do because it was so busy, but the view of that, dozens of rowing boats all lighted by candle lanterns was really breathtaking.
Dalat or Da Lat
Time was going so fast, so we decided not to follow the coastline further down South anymore. After some research we decided to fly from Da Nang to Da Lat with a short domestic flight. Da Lat is more land inwards and is famous for it’s flowers, coffee and strawberries. On our way to the airport we planned a visit to My Son, which is a large complex with remainders of Hindu temples of the kings of the Champa, which was largely destroyed during the war. The building style used is very unique, bricks almost as we know them today are all put together not using any cement to hold them together. It was a hot and humid day so we were happy there were free electric cars running up and down the valley to bring us to the actual complex, which was 2 km down the valley. With the support of UNESCO the site is currently being rebuild, which is great because the site is really unique in it’s kind.
Flying from Da Nang to Da Lat would take us 2 hours which at first we didn’t really understand because the distance seemed not so far. It was only until we saw the plane, which was a 2 propeller powered ATR 72, French-Italian build, we understood why. Luckily we didn’t know this until we got on the plane J. To be honest, it was all right, just 72 seats, the chairs were not too narrow and it was not so noisy as we expected it to be. Da Lat airport is very small only 2 landing strips and very quiet, so no need to wait a long time for the luggage to arrive.
When our cabdriver, who was really tired, and had to fight to stay awake, ‘no shit’, dropped us at our Hotel in the hills outside the city center we were happy we made it in one piece. In the same time we realized we would need transportation to visit the city because walking up and down the hills would just be too much.
Next morning we woke up under a bright blue sky and an amazing view on Da Lat from our hotel window. We took a taxi down to the city center and started walking pretty much the whole day, to the market, around the lake and to the flower garden, which was pretty cool. Da Lat is mostly popular among Vietnamese newly weds, which was probably why people were kind of staring at us the whole time and why our English seemed like Arabic to them. People have been making jokes about restaurants with pictures of their dishes, well I whish they had them in Da Lat too, or English menus, or just… ah never mind. We only had like one really awkward moment when we though we had ordered a nice chicken hot pot, which is like a chicken bouillon or chicken fondue like dish. Mostly these hot pots have like nice small slices of tender chicken meat and a lot of fresh vegetables in them, but not this time. I don’t know what they had done to the poor chicken, but it seemed like they had just molested it with a dull axe and just put it in the pot, legs, toes… everything. So we ‘enjoyed’ the bouillon and ate the complementary rice bread and that’s it.
The temperature in Da Lat was refreshingly cool compared to other places we visited, only like 29 to 30 degrees. Maybe that’s why the Vietnamese were all wearing shoes, long trousers, jackets, scarfs and even ‘I kid you not’ gloves.
Some other things we did in Da Lat were visiting a couple of the waterfalls which are in the area, the Elephant falls are really cool to see but take quite a climb to get up and down. We went out to see and drink coffee in a coffee plantation, as coffee is really one of the specialties of Da Lat. We visited the ‘Valley of Love’; which is a quite big and well maintained park where you can walk around an entire day really. It’s kind of a Vietnamese attraction park with lovely gardens, pedaled swans on the lake, replicas of all the most important buildings and statues in the world, luckily there is some hop on hop of busses you can use because the park is so huge, and because they are not used to foreign guest, we were also an attraction, everyone wanted to be in the picture with us.
- Hai Van Pass: If you’re in the neighborhood you really should drive this lovely road, it’s about 21 km long and has the most stunning views. The most popular ways to see it are by scooter, open jeep or like we did by private car. It’s really breathtaking.
- Flower garden: The garden is well maintained and colorful and can be found near to the lake in Da Lat. It’s refreshing and there’s plenty of spaces to sit down and enjoy the view. It’s easy reachable by foot or taxi, taxi’s are waiting for you at the exit if you prefer a ride back to your hotel or city center.
- Valley of love: Plan at least a couple of hours for a visit to this park where often locals come to spend a daytrip, because the park, which is next to the Da Lat Golf Club, is huge. Although it’s a little artificial there is plenty of nice gardens and a dozen of different area’s to enjoy the view and sit down and relax.
- Com Linh: Enjoy local specialty dishes amongst local travelers at local prices. The food is delicious and the service is quick and the staff very helpful.
- Little Hoi An Beach Boutique & Spa: the middle sized hotel is just outside the city of Hoi An and has 2 beach entrances and 2 pools, it offers a free shuttle bus to the old center of Hoi and has a high quality buffet style breakfast. The rooms are big and some of them have a bathtub
- Marble mountains: If you’re in for a visit to a complex of temples high up the mountains we’re all is in marble, this is the right spot for you. Be prepared for a lot of stairs, take some water with you and wear decent shoes, because the stairs can be a little slippery.
- Elephant falls: A cool place to visit when it’s not raining, because the stairs and climbing rocks up and down get slippery and muddy when it is wet. However when the weather is good, conquer your fears and climb up and down to see the beauty of these falls, which are really big.
- Hoi An night market: The reason Hoi An got famous is because of it’s lanterns, if you want the see them at their best, the evening market in the old quarter is the place to be. As soon as it starts to get dark you see the real beauty of them.
- Me Linh Coffee plantation: Up the hills and just outside Da Lat there are a number of coffee plantations, we visited Me Linh which is probably one of the largest in the area. Sit down order a cup of freshly made coffee and enjoy the view over the coffee plantations. If you’re there at lunchtime order a plate of the bamboo BBQ that looked very tasteful.