After seven hours on a bus from Saigon, we arrived at a bus station perched above a picturesque lake surrounded by the little city of Dalat. What a relief to get out of the big city’s heat, humidity, and noise! A free shuttle delivered us to the front steps of Green Leaves Guest House and we checked in to one of the nicest hotels we encountered in Vietnam, paying around $12/night. Big bay windows overlooked a quiet street and a wrap-around balcony provided excellent views. The restaurant downstairs provided a variety of tasty dishes, free breakfast, and room service. We even decided to extend our stay for an extra day.
Exploring the city on foot, we discovered some the best local dishes to be had in Vietnam. A nearby restaurant, Hoa Sen, served up the best $3 vegetarian pho – packed with rice noodles, flavorful broth and a bounty of fresh herbs and greens. Imagine our surprise when we ordered coffee…traditionally served after eating, it is delivered in two pieces. The top brew cup contains the Vietnamese ground coffee and hot water and it slow-drips into a clear glass mug with a bottom layer of sweetened condensed milk. Once done brewing, you remove the top, stir the contrasting layers and enjoy Vietnamese cafe sua…milk coffee runs about $1. We stumbled upon our first and best ban xeo, translated as pancake, while getting lost down a side street. A thin layer of scrambled egg is fried and filled with a variety of locally-sourced fillings: mung bean sprouts, shrimp or pork, fresh crisp herbs and veggies, all wrapped in thin rice paper and dunked in a sweet fish sauce…all for about 75 cents.
Our last full day we hired moto guides from Highland Holiday Travel. We each hopped on back with a guide and took off across the countryside. Our tour included a stop, literally we just pulled off the road and walked onto a coffee plantation, where we tasted green coffee beans pulled straight off the tree. We moved on to the silk worm factory where the life and death of millions of silk worms created dramatic pieces of hand embroidery and clothing. One of my favorite take aways from this tour was the cricket farm. The chirping insects, housed in large concrete pens, are delicious! Pan-fried and dunked in spicy chili sauce…I will admit to finishing the plate while my travel companion hesitantly tried one or two. This full day tour, which also included stops at a flower farm, Linh An Pagoda with Big Happy Buddha, a short hike to spectacular Elephant Waterfall, visiting a minority village, and a rice wine making operation, cost about $15.
We stayed for three nights, then rushed on to the next city. I would recommend staying at least that long and if possible longer to enjoy all that Dalat has to offer.