For the Vietnamese, Da Lat’s cool altitude makes it an agricultural hotspot, while the pretty vistas and mountain landscapes makes it a honeymoon capital as well. The temperatures, which can dip down to freezing in the coldest months, has attracted overheated expats since the French colonial days. This quirky town boasts layers of personality, and the best way to see it all is with Vietnam’s quirkiest tour group, the Da Lat Easy Riders.
First of all, let it be known that you don’t need to go to a tourist office to find the Easy Riders. Odds are excellent that one of the group’s 75 members will find you, spotting your rucksack a mile off and wheeling up with directions to hotels, tips on local food to try, and of course, promotion of their services. Though their touting may seem assertive, especially if you’re just stepping off a long bus ride, these guides are some of the friendliest people you’ll meet in Vietnam.
Even tourists who normally drive their own bikes will benefit from the guides’ witty understanding of the city and its surroundings. Whether your passion is rural temples, exotic farms, or waterfalls, the Easy Riders will tell you the most popular sights in the area and help you tailor your itinerary to fit your tastes. Don’t shrug off the odder-sounding sights, like persimmon storehouses or coffee plantations. The spots are likely run by friends of your guide, and they will give you demonstrations and offerings that no museum could.
On the morning of my tour, when the rain drizzled down on Da Lat, my guide showed up at the guesthouse with raincoats to spare. Throughout the day, he answered every question under the sun, from “who was Le Loi and why are so many streets named after him?” to “how do Vietnamese people feel about tourism?” with an impressive command of the English language. At the end of the day, with a head full of facts and a camera full of photos, I was all too pleased to sign my guide’s comment book, which was dense with pictures and kind notes of other customers.
The Easy Riders will give you a heap of options for how to fill your day. Below are some of Da Lat’s most popular destinations:
The daughter of a Vietnam’s second communist president studied architecture in Russia before building this elaborate guesthouse, which looks like the psychedelic set of a children’s show. It’s worth exploring for the Smurf-village-like designs, and the ensuing discussion of “…but is it art?”
Lake of Sorrow
For a dose of local folklore, ask your guide to share the legend behind this popular honeymoon spot, where two young lovers met a Shakespearean fate.
Though waterfall enthusiasts may want to head further out of town for the bigger falls, this spot, a scenic 10km-ride out of town, is surrounded by pretty hiking paths.
Silk Worm Breeder
For any traveller who’s dropped a few dong on silk souvenirs, it’s interesting to see the rustic beginnings of this elegant fabric. Here, you can watch silkworm cocoons being boiled to unravel the threads, and ask questions to the patient staff (here, the Easy Riders will serve as interpreters).
Not only are the farmlands beautiful on the outskirts of Da Lat, it’s interesting to watch the leafy green origins of the coffee plant, or the persimmon’s lyme-curing process. More interesting is the insight you’ll get into Vietnamese agriculture, and how its economics changed after the Soviet Union’s collapse.
Old Train Station
If Da Lat’s faux-Eiffel tower has you contemplating French colonialism, don’t miss this French-built train station, which looks more suited for Lyons than Southeast Asia. While the museum-like station is a bit lacking in displays, the old-model locomotives and grand architecture are telling of France’s high hopes for Vietnam as a colony.
While Easy Riders tours can vary in price, depending on whether you book several days with your driver. The 20$ I paid for a full day (and raincoat) was well worth it.
Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.