Da Lat might be one of Vietnam’s best kept secrets. Viewed as a city unlike others in Vietnam, once you arrive in Da Lat, you won’t really feel like you’re in Vietnam. Though it is still a relatively busy city, Da Lat has a very laid-back vibe as it resides in a more open area with many hills. The Countryside Tour in Da Lat is a great way to learn and see a lot about the history and culture of the city, however, you’d be better off doing this tour on your own if you’re comfortable riding a motorcycle or by going on a private tour.
During this tour we made 9 stops, so it was quite a busy and jam-packed day. For 250,000 VND (about HK$86) we spent the day touring around with 12 other people, both Vietnamese locals who were visiting the city as well as foreign tourists. We booked the tour through the Dalat Travel Service Center and we had a lovely English-speaking tour guide. Because of how rushed the day was and how “meh” some of the sights we saw were, I would recommend doing this tour on your own – there were a number of people who looked like they were doing a motorbike tour around the countryside, which might have been a more enjoyable and fun alternative. Regardless of what you choose, here are the 9 things you’ll see on the Countryside Tour.
1. Van Thanh Flower Village
Along the way to the first stop, our guide told us about how Da Lat is known for their flowers (which is why they have a huge Flower Festival every year) and is actually the only city in the whole of Vietnam that can grow flowers throughout the year due to its climate. She spoke a lot about roses and how purchasing flowers in Da Lat was incredibly cheap, which is why many locals decorate their homes with lots of flowers. Because of this, I was expecting to be taken to a large rose garden, however, that was not the case. We were brought to a rather pathetic-looking greenhouse sparsely filled with flowers. When I inquired about the roses, she said they were in another area that wasn’t part of the tour. We were clearly not off to a good start..
2. Cil Lat People – Village
Next up was a visit to the Cil Lat Village. I was slightly hesitant about this part, as I had previously visited the Karen Long Neck Village in Thailand and had very mixed feelings about the experience. We arrived at a pre-selected house in the village and our tour guide told us a bit about the Cil Lat People: how they were essentially outcast from society, seen as lower-class citizens, have relatively no opportunity to help their situation, and so forth. There was also a local Cil Lat man whom we could speak to, though his English was not very good. What I found really uncomfortable was there was a monkey on a leash that was tied to a tree. This had no connection to the Cil Lat People and was merely used as a piece of tourist entertainment, which was incredibly sad.
3. Coffee Plantation
I really enjoyed our stop at the coffee plantation. Our tour guide first explained the different types of coffee bean trees and then took us to where they keep the Civet’s they use to make Kopi Luwak (civet poo coffee). This is the most expensive coffee in Vietnam at about 100,000 VND per cup throughout the city (a normal Vietnamese coffee is only about 15,000 VND), but only 60,000 VND per cup at the coffee plantation. I tried the coffee and, to be frank, wasn’t entirely impressed. While it definitely had a distinct, robust taste to it, I don’t think it was worth the price. The cafe also offers a great vantage point to see out into the plantation.
4. Cricket Farm & Rice Wine Distillery
This was another odd part of our tour. At first we were shown into the cricket farm, which was more like a mini zoo. There were porcupines, guinea pigs, alligators, deer, and, well, crickets. When I asked what exactly was going on here, our tour guide said that this was solely for the purpose of tourists, so I’m confused as to why we saw this on a “Countryside Tour”. After we had a few minutes wandering about, she took us into the rice wine distillery (literally just another room next to the ‘zoo’) to show us how rice wine is made. We finished off with some fried crickets (which were actually not that bad) and shots of rice wine.
5. Cuong Hoan Silk Factory
We arrived just before all of the workers went on their lunch break and were able to see what the factory looks like in full swing. I thought the whole production was a bit gross, but it was also really interesting to see how silk is extracted from the silkworm. We had some time to walk around the factory and then our tour guide showed us where they actually store the silkworms. Much of the silk they produce is, not surprisingly, shipped off to China.
6. Linh An Pagoda
Aside from your usual temple and God/Goddess statues, I fell in love with the big Buddha at Linh An. This might just be the happiest and cutest Buddha I have ever seen, which is saying a lot since I’ve seen far too many Buddha’s to count. Aside from the Buddha, there wasn’t too much else to see here (but, for me, the Buddha more than made up for that), especially if you’ve been to numerous Pagoda’s before.
7. Elephant Waterfalls
Before going on the Countryside Tour, I had looked up pictures of the Elephant Waterfalls and was thus very excited to see it for myself. Get ready for a steep climb down to the falls (I would be weary about wearing flip flops) with lots of other tourists. There is only one route up and down, so you have to maneuver your way around people as best you can. When I finally made it down to the main area in front of the falls, I was quite disappointed. The standing area is quite small and there were a group of teenagers who kept climbing up the rocks, which was incredibly dangerous, to get a photo in front of the waterfall (this is what you don’t see in the photo above, as I tilted the camera up, but there were about 25 people below the photo). All in all, I found the Elephant Waterfalls slightly disappointing, both because they weren’t as grand as I had pictured, and because of all the other tourists scrambling about to take photographs and climbing up the rocks.
8. Crazy House
This stop was actually not meant to be on the tour; our guide asked us if we would be interested in going to the Crazy House. Since we were all in no rush to head back to our hotels, we figured ‘why not’. Built in 1990 by architect Dr. Dang Viet Nga who wanted to “bring people back to nature”, the house itself truly is crazy. The entrance fee is 40,000 VND (HK$14), which is not a lot, so given how cheap it is and how bizarre it was, I’d say you might as well go for it, especially if you have children. You can also see some great views of Da Lat from certain vantage points. While the Crazy House is mainly a daily tourist attraction, there are also rooms throughout that you can spend the night in.
9. Old Railway Station
Since it was designed in 1932 by the French, you’ll notice that it looks very “un-Vietnamese”. The station was abandoned during the Vietnam War, but reopened 7 km of its track in the early 1900s to take tourists to Trai Mat, a nearby village. If you have a bit of time on your hands and fancy a drink or a bite to eat, you can hop in one of the other trains’ cars, as it was transformed into a small cafe.
Whether the Countryside Tour of Da Lat is worth your time is completely up to you. We left around 8:00 am and didn’t get back to our hotel until after 5:00 pm, making for a very long day (lunch is not included, though they do stop for a communal lunch that you have to pay for if you want to eat). While I did enjoy some of the sights on the tour and you did see a lot of Da Lat, overall I felt I would have enjoyed it much more if I hired a private motorcycle tour or something of the like.