Getting active in Da Lat, Vietnam

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Many people have fallen in love with Da Lat because of its mesmerising beauty. It has even been chosen as a destination for honeymoon or wedding anniversary by numerous couples. However, this hill town bestows a plethora of surprise that intrigues adventurers.

One of popular activities to discover Da Lat is cycling. No, I am not talking about the romantic tandem bicycles. I mean mountain biking or road biking. It is easy to stumble upon mountain biking tours on any travel website about Da Lat. Nevertheless, as a person who prefers “DIY trips”, I would design my own bike tour rather than register any tour.

The first challenges

To begin, I needed a bike. More exactly, it’s two as I travelled with my mum this time. But it was not as easy as I had thought. Most of travel agents in Da Lat offer bicycle tours rather than bike rental only. Fortunately, we eventually found a shop on Truong Cong Dinh Street (in the city centre) that offers bike rental. We rented two mountain bikes, a bit old but still working, with the cost of 80,000 VND for one bike per day and one promise of not going over 10km from the centre. “Oh well, that’s not bad. At least, we got a bike”, I told my mum. “We’ll manage to do what we want to do”.

And our city tour started. Cycling for about five minutes, we faced the first slope. With all of my strength, I managed to climb to the top. But where was my mum? She appeared one minute later, walking her bike.

The bikes were old and we did not know how to adjust the bike’s rear derailleur to go faster and more smoothly. Additionally, roads in Da Lat consist of slopes and hills as a striking feature of the highland city, which make the roads too hard to cycle. We didn’t see any cyclist on the road, except us, the only two human beings cycling under the shining sun that day.

Getting lost with the bike

I could stay on the bike and keep cycling but it was truly a tough challenge for my 50 year-old mum. But she did not give up. If she couldn’t bike, she walked then cycled when she could. I don’t think many people at her age could do the same. My friend couldn’t believe her ears and expressed admiration when I told what my mum did with me during our trip. I was genuinely proud of and grateful to her for travelling with me and especially cycling on difficult roads like the ones in Da Lat.

Still sweet

Of course, the first steps are always the hardest. Things got better when we were familiar with the bikes. The best part was obviously going down the slopes with breezes kissing our cheeks.

We buzzed around the city on the bike, covering most of attractions. We didn’t have any proper plan for a day although we had some places in mind. So we started with the spots near our hostel, followed by further places which are 5 to 8km from the city centre. Next plans were only discussed during our coffee break or lunch.

The following were places we covered in our one day bike tour.

Hang Nga Crazy House

This quirky attraction is only a stone’s throw away from our hostel. The first though came to my mind when I visited this building was that it shared features with bizarre works by Catalan architect Antonia Gaudi. It’s true. The mother of the house, Dang Viet Nga, acknowledged that the house’ design was inspired by Gaudi and nature environment surrounding in Da Lat.

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The building was inspired by Gaudi’s works

The building resembles a giant tree, incorporating sculptured design elements representing natural forms such as animals, mushrooms, spider webs and caves. It was originally built as a personal project of Vietnam and opened to public then for tourism purpose. Some parts of the building serve as a guesthouse that visitors can stay overnight.

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Quirky design of the building, resembling its natural surrounding

As a fan of Gaudi, I was intrigued by the house since the very first moment. It’s apparently one of my favourite destinations in Da Lat.

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The aquarium-inspired design of the building

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Love the design!

Quan Cua Thoi Thanh Xuan (literally translated as Youthful Teashop)

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It’s another spot close to our hostel. A very special place in the lovely Central Highland city of Da Lat where the main way for most customers to communicate with the staff here is writing because the staff are deaf. I found the shop accidentally. The owner was also a couchsurfer who accepted my request when I planned to visit Da Lat two years ago. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it. But I was so touched after reading his profile which mentioned his project working with the deaf. It reminded me of the time I interned at an NGO running a project on deaf people and sign language after my graduation.  Therefore, the teashop has been on my travel bucket list since then. I was so pleased to visit the teashop this time. You will be blown away by little lovely things at the shop, the vintage decoration and especially the story of the owner, just like I was.

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Bao Dai Palace 1

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The main building in the area which was much influenced by French architecture

This place was a bit off centre but worth a visit. The French-style influenced villa belonged to King Bao Dai – the last king of Vietnam’s feudal court. Quite a few of interesting things about Bao Dai were revealed in this building. And the architecture is really nice!

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Another building in the complex

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The complex is full of green.

Da Lat Railway Station and Pedagogical College of Da Lat

We were not meant to visit these places although they are highly recommended attractions in Dat Lat. We realized we still had time before the sun went down so we decided to hit there.

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Da Lat Railway Station

Da Lat was found by French during the French colonial period in Vietnam so most of architecture in the city has had a French look. These two attractions are not the exception. They are strongly French-influenced with mustard-yellow paint or red bricks. The college’s brick bell-tower and wrap-around-style main block with its archway details is a genuinely jaw-dropping impression.

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Pedagogical College of Da Lat

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French-influenced design with arch gates

Although we were exhausted after a full day cycling flat out, we were also pleased with what we did. It was unavoidable to not get lost for first-timers to a new city, but we found different shortcuts or hidden gems of the city thanks to the times we got lost. It was not only an active day, but also a productive day with lots of information gained about Da Lat’s history and lifestyle, plus unforgettable (yes, in a good way) experience with the bicycles.

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