Taking a drone on a daytrip from “the city of eternal spring”. Words and photos by Jonny Edbrooke.
Sitting 1,500m above sea level, Dalat was, during colonial times, a cool getaway for the French. And by cool, I mean take a jacket, or at least a jumper. It can get a bit chilly here, even with clear blue skies and bright sunshine.
There are really only two ways to get to Dalat from Ho Chi Minh City – by road or by air. Going by bus or car takes about six to eight hours and while it’s the cheap option, the journey is a bit tedious, with all but the last hour being mundane and dull.
Flying takes about 35 minutes and, at around US$100 return, it’s the better option as far as we’re concerned. The airport is a way out of town but you’ll see some beautiful scenery on the drive in.
When Dalat was the getaway of French colonials there was a rail line running between the two cities, through the mountains and into the centre of Dalat. But the train is no more. There has been a push to rebuild the line as a tourist attraction but nothing has come of this yet. (If you’d like to know more about this, check out our online interview with Curtis King, the train man of Dalat, who also happens to have a great hotel, with an old train carriage as the restaurant. Worth a visit if you’re in town.)
Dalat is a quaint city surrounded by green hills, reminiscent of much of Europe. The city is dotted with wonderful old French colonial villas, many of which have been converted into hotels, homestays, restaurants and bars.
It’s famous for its large lake in the centre of the city, and the old train station just out of town. It’s a very walkable city, with cafes on just about every corner.
Unlike many other tourist destinations in Vietnam, there’s actually plenty to do in Dalat. The surrounding hills are covered in pine forests and lush coffee plantations. There are many hiking trails through the forests, some more challenging than others, and small waterfalls close to the city that make peaceful places to stop and relax.
There are about 12 waterfalls near Dalat we decided to take a daytrip with a drone to some of the bigger ones.
The closest falls are accessible by taxi or motorbike. They are not too hard to find (but our taxi driver managed to get lost anyway). It’s a good idea to ask your hotel reception to explain to the driver exactly where you want to go as he probably won’t speak English. I think we paid the driver VND1 million for the entire day, which is not a bad price for having a driver oncall.
Our first stop was Bao Dai Falls, one of the more spectacular of the region’s waterfalls and named after the last emperor of Vietnam. Bao Dai kept a large and lavish holiday home in Dalat and regularly went tiger hunting with his royal entourage near the falls. Bao Dai Falls are about 50 kilometres from the city and takes about an hour to get there.
Once you arrive, you’ll discover the gates leading to the falls are probably locked, but there’s a mobile number on the gate and if you call it a little old lady appears with a key in about 10 minutes. It’s free to get in and the falls are dramatic, as you can see from the video on asialifemagazine.com. We had the whole place to ourselves but be warned, there’s nothing else there – no cafes, no shops, no people.
Our next stop was Pongour Falls, one of the most well-known of Dalat’s waterfalls, with coaches regularly unloading streams of tourists. The place has managed to remain fairly undeveloped, and due to the size of the site you can avoid the crowds with a bit of planning.
Follow the stairs down, past the tacky souvenir stalls and food outlets, to the base of the falls which despite the water flow being controlled by a dam upstream is still pretty impressive, falling over seven levels of terraces. It costs VND10,000 to get in and is most popular with visitors in the late afternoon.
Our last stop on this trip was Elephant Falls which is in the centre of a small, nearby town. Perhaps the most impressive of our trip if you stand at the top of the falls and look out across the valley you can see a house built on a hill overlooking the falls. Arguably with one of the best views to be had of the falls, the owner hasn’t put windows in that side of the house. Bizarre.
You can walk to the bottom of the hills but be warned that it’s steep and slippery and you will certainly get wet, judging by those who were walking up this maybe very wet. We didn’t feel the need to go down so we sent the drone instead and got some more spectacular footage.
Where to stay (they can also book a car for you): www.dalattrainvilla.com.
Useful words for the driver:
I need to go to the toilet – tôi cần phải đi vào nhà vệ sinh
We want beer – chúng tôi muốn uống bia
Wait here – Chờ ở đây.