May 20, 2020
We arrive in Da Lat at 6:00 am. It is a city surrounded by hills, located at an altitude of over 1500 meters (5000 feet) above sea level. The climate changes immediately. It is cooler, around 26°C (78°F), and in addition to that - it is a cloudy day. After getting off the bus, we are approached by taxi drivers offering transport to the city. We politely refuse and consult the travel guide about the distance to the center. It’s only a kilometer (0.6 miles). We throw backpacks on our backs and begin the morning walk. On the way we pass locals who feel the temperature much different than we do, they wear warm coats, scarves, and often hats. We walk along Xuan Huong Lake, a banana-shaped lake with swan boats, surrounded by beautiful mountains and greenery. Da Lat, as the locals say, is a city of lovers. Vietnamese often go there on their honeymoon. Generally, it looks very little like an Asian town and more like a European resort. However, when you leave the center, things get back to normal.
When searching for accommodation we decide to go back to the travel guide and select two places with reasonable prices. It is just before 7 in the morning, so we wonder if we will have to wait a good couple of hours before the check-in. We go into the first found place named Le Phuong. The hotel looks brand new. From the entrance, the owner greets us very warmly. He offers us a room right away, so we do not think twice about it. We do a little haggling, even though the price is low, but it's just for practice. The room is spacious and of a high standard, much better than in Saigon. After taking a quick shower, we go out in search of a place where we'll be able to eat some breakfast. And here again, we use the travel guide. Breakfast is European rather than Vietnamese, but most importantly, it is delicious.
Da Lat - the city itself probably does not have much to offer to us, but the outskirts do. Therefore we decided to explore it on a scooter. Never before did we ride a scooter. We find a renting place. We leave Viola's driver's license as a guarantee (driving on the streets does not require a driving license, apparently even student cards are accepted), put helmets on our heads, and start riding. We have two destinations in mind - Elephant Waterfalls and the Lang Biang mountains. Alex sits behind the wheel and Viola behind him with a map in hand. We try to join the traffic and for a moment we're going against it(!), but it is the order of the day here so nobody pays attention to us. We decide to go to the waterfalls first. Road signage is poor, but it looks like we are on the right track. Or so we think. We realize after a moment that we are not going in the intended direction, but somehow we end up at the other destination - the mountains. That's what happens when Viola navigates 😉
The Lang Biang mountains are a group of five volcanic peaks, lying 18 km (11 miles) from Da Lat, ascending at the height of over 2000 m (6500 feet) above sea level. Even half a century ago, their slopes were roamed by rhinos and tigers. Today you can meet here half-wild horses grazing on the grassy mountainside. We pass through local villages, local people, children returning from school, who often greet us loudly shouting "hello". We arrive at the parking lot, by the entrance to the park. After paying for admission and parking, we learn that we can rent a jeep to one of the peaks, however, with healthy legs, we decide to go for a hike.
Right at the beginning of the hike, the sky brightens and it gets hot and muggy. The jeeps drive past us. Besides us, nobody else walks. We notice wild horses, which quickly disappear into dense bushes. After more than an hour, we come to the point where the trail splits in two. The left path leads to a lower peak and the right path to the highest. The information road sign shows that the higher peak is 2.2 km (1.3 m) away. After a short discussion, we decide that Viola, due to the heat, finishes her hike, and Alex decides to try for the peak. The trail changes from the main road into a forest path. It goes well and the first kilometer goes by very quickly. It seems that the summit is within easy reach, and then the path suddenly turns into the thick jungle and leads steeply upwards. The pace of climbing is clearly decreasing. The setting is amazing. I am surrounded by huge ferns, tall trees, vines falling down, which often serve as a handle. From time to time, through the thicket vegetation you could get a glimpse of a view of the surrounding area. Suddenly, my eye catches something in the trees, it is moving. It is an animal not known to me. It moves like a squirrel, but it is several times larger with a long tail. As it turned out later, it was a black giant squirrel. On average, an adult black giant squirrel has a head and body length of 34-37cm (13-15in), and the tail 41-42cm (16-17in) long. It jumps from tree to tree, every now and then looking at me. It is an amazing feeling to see previously unknown to me species in its natural habitat. Being aware that there is no one around, only makes those moments more beautiful. The end of the trail is very hard. You have to overcome more than a hundred steep steps, partly created by man, and partly by the roots that stick out of the ground. The jungle is getting so thick that it is hard to go through, and thorns from various bushes tear your clothes with no problem. Some plants have small spikes, which hook to everything. The reward for hard work and sweat is huge. View from the top of the central plateau of Vietnam and the surrounding mountains literally takes my breath away.
We meet somewhere on the path. On the way to the parking lot, we decide to visit the local diner in order to compensate our bodies for burned calories. On the way back to our hotel we decide to turn here and there, every now and then changing behind the wheel, just like kids playing with a toy. There is not enough time to see the waterfall. We extend the scooter rental to noon the next day, with a plan to leave in the morning for the next adventure. As the day was very intense, we spend the rest of the evening resting and go to bed early to regenerate strength for the next day.
“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anais Nin