Da Lat came as a refreshing change to many of our prior stops. It is a quaint little mountain town with fresh air and beautiful scenery. This also comes with quite the climate change. It was the first place in Southeast Asia that was legitimately cold (or if you’re not Athena – just cool). We stayed at Mr. Peace’s Backpackers Hostel. A place that we would recommend to anyone traveling through Da Lat. It is run by Mr. Peace, his wife Strawberry and their adorable 1yr. old daughter, Laura (obviously the baby doesn’t do much in regards to running the place, but she is quite the cute addition to the stay). Mr. Peace is…well, eccentric to say the least. He is a crazy man – all over the place, but he is also somehow very on top of everything you need. He and his wife are incredibly kind and a lot of fun to be around. They do family breakfast and dinner where they take everyone from the hostel out or cook a meal in. They go out to the bars together with everyone. They do a really great job at making sure everyone spends time together, which is what most people are looking for when they stay at a hostel. He convinced us to extend our stay from 1 night to 3.
We went on a city tour our first day, where we were taken to coffee bean farms and shown how they make weasel coffee, which is a huge thing in Vietnam. For those of you that don’t know what it is, the weasels only eat the best coffee beans, so they wait for the weasel to shit out the beans and then they brew the shit beans and charge double for it. Oddly enough, that is not a joke. It is literal shit coffee. We tried it, it tasted no better or worse than regular coffee. It is just intended to be stronger. After seeing the condition that the weasels are kept though, we decided not to drink it again. They are kept in tiny cages, likely fed only coffee beans rather than a natural diet and are very skittish when you get near the cages. It was pretty discouraging to see and hopefully this is extra incentive for all of our readers to not go out and buy shit coffee mid post.
We then were taken to a silk factory where we were able to watch how silk goes from the silk worm to thread. It was pretty fascinating. We stopped by a large temple (literally our 1,000,000th temple) with a giant smiling Buddha. The next tour stop was Elephant waterfall, which was massive muddy and subsequently slippery due to a recent rainfall. We also stopped at a rice wine factory. First, we examine the standard rice wine in large barrels. We were offered a sample of the extremely potent liquor until every member of the tour knocked back the pungent liquid (wow, that was strong, I think I just got drunk on a single shot). Next, we were shown the back room where we saw a wine with fermented snakes, birds and lizards in it. It looked like a natural history museum with only one display case. Oh, and the museum would have to be run by a drunk. Apparently, this concoction used to rejuvenate manual laborers after working hours with strength and endurance (in the bedroom). Wonderful, the only way the animal soup booze could have possibly got grosser was picturing someone using it as some sort of sex elixir. Our final stop was the Crazy House, which is included in most listings of weird houses or hotels around the globe. It was a house at one point and is now a massive, mazelike hotel. It felt like we were walking through a Dr. Suess novel. There were bridges, tunnels, a sculptures all over. It would be an amazing setting for a haunted house, except that some of the walkways were unsecured and you could fall off to certain doom. I’m sure that’s probably happened to at least one hippie who got inside the fence after eating some ‘shrooms. This would probably be the best place we’ve seen so far to recommend sampling mind altering drugs. If that’s your sort of thing, I’m sure you probably have something in common with the architect. In actuality, it was pretty awesome. Cool to see someone with an eccentric interest getting to complete a project of such scale without being confined by building codes. Another reason why SEA’s lack of any rules is cool.
We spent one day driving around on a moped looking for some of the top waterfalls in the area and we ended up seeing two. Bao Dai was a hard one to find, but once we did, we were not disappointed. Essentially a slow meandering river through farmer’s fields that widens and unexpectedly plunges over a 60 foot ledge. The second one we visited was Pongour, the stair-step waterfall. You could walk out on the various terraces of this massive landmark. Pongour is absolutely a photographer’s dream.
We heard many people talk about Canyoning or Absailing in this area, saying it was one of the best, if not the best thing they did in all of Vietnam. I was certain that this just meant these people just hadn’t done many awesome things on their trips. We decided to go for it and chose an overnight trip instead of the day trip most people did. After arriving at the start of our site, we were given a brief instruction on how to repel safely and what to expect for the day, then we were on our way with our guides: “Black Monkey” and “Lady Boy”. We started by repelling into a pool of water created by a waterfall, but the rock we went down was dry. After our group was finished we were taken to a low cliff jump where everyone (except me, who chickened out) jumped into the water and swam over to the waterfall for some pictures. The water was FRIGID and we were going to be in and out of the water for the entire day. Thankfully it was a warm day. We hiked our way to the second waterfall and also repelled down a dry side of this one into a pool. Afterwards we continued our trek stopping at some natural water slides for some fun. One of the “waterslides” Rob and I were able to go down together – one forwards, one backwards with our legs interlocked. Then we got to the real excitement! Full waterfall repelling! We started on a HUGE waterfall, took off our shoes (socks don’t slip as much) and were instructed to only look up for the first few feet and then look below us for guidance from the instructor that was at the bottom of the falls for when to let go of the rope and jump. JUMP!?? Was my first thought… they wanted us to not only repel down the center of a waterfall but then jump down half of it! I almost bailed, but knew there was no other way to go around, so down we went… the water was incredibly strong and if you looked up for too long you got a face full of water. As you work your way further down the waterfall, you are sliding your feet down the rocks, just keeping your fingers crossed that the force of the water won’t cause your feet to come off of them. Then at a certain point, one of the instructors yells “JUMP JUMP JUMP!” as loud as he can and you realize you have no more rope so its do or die, you let go and fall perfectly into a pool of freezing cold water. It was an amazing rush and it got our group anxious for more. A few more drifts down the river (and one attempted flip turned belly flop by Rob from about 25 feet) and we were at our last stop. The “washing machine.” We had heard about the one they call the washing machine but no one had yet to give away why it had this intimidating name. We found out soon enough…. It started as a dry repel until you the waterfall hit and spun you around 4 or 5 times, then you drop your hands, fall into the water and the strength of the waterfall pushes you through a small tunnel and you end up on the other side of the river. It was incredibly intense. After we completed our day of canyoning and were thoroughly tuckered out, we had to trek to our campsite. Rob and I were the only ones in the whole place and we were given a little hut along a beautiful lake. The family that runs the campgrounds cooked us an amazing meal for both dinner and breakfast the next morning and it ended up being some of the best food that we had the whole time in Vietnam.