When Harmony and I were previously in Da Lat, we didn't spend nearly enough time here and we didn't do half of the things we wanted. By the time we left, we already knew we were going to return after just a matter of days in Ho Chi Minh City. On the return journey, it really felt like we were returning home, to place that we knew and loved.
We made in to our hostel just in time for "family dinner" and filled our bellies with rice and vegetables. It's a nice tradition that the staff at Backpackers Paradise organise. All the guests gather downstairs for food and drinks. Plus, it's completely free and it forces you to have conversations with one-another. You never know what great friendships you're going to make!
In the morning, we woke up to relentless rain showers. You could see how much rain that they've recently had in Da Lat as they had to open the dam and release some water from the lake - making the rivers that run through the city about a meter higher than when we were last here. It made me worry about whether or not I would be able to take the pictures I wanted to and do the things we wanted to do. Nevertheless, we got out of the hostel for coffee and waited to see how sunset was going to turn out. We went to our favourite coffee shop - Salt Coffee. It's a really cool place with delicious drinks near the center of the city. While I'm at it, I'll also recommend M Bistro - a nice restaurant that's also near the center of the city.
I eventually got to take some photos in the evening, but the rain did not stop. I just covered my camera with a plastic bag and hoped for the best. Obviously, that doesn't often make for great photos. However, it was still a worthwhile scouting mission. I got to write off some ideas that I previously had as they just wouldn't work, and replaced those ideas with some new ones of Lam Vien Square. The lotus flower shaped building looked great when the lights turned on, and the other building with green, glass walls looked great with the fountains in the foreground!
The next day, it dawned on me that we couldn't let this be a wasted return trip. We had to start cramming in the activities, so we got our canyoning tour booked for the next day. We also decided that we should do the cable car ride up Robin Hill. This ten-minute cable car journey took us through tall pine tree forests and above the clouds! The overcast and atmospheric conditions probably made it a bit more exciting and interesting than it usually is but, for 70,000 Dong per person, it would still be worth it on an only average day.
The cable car stops at one of the most beautiful temples and most peaceful working monasteries in Vietnam. Located next to Paradise Lake, it sits in the most tranquil setting and is an amazing place to explore. Fortunately we had already explored Truc Lam Temple during our last visit, as the heavy rain meant that we couldn't really walk around. It also meant that we couldn't walk down to the lake, which is a shame because I wanted to take some pictures there. Unlike at other tourist attractions in Da Lat, there were no taxis outside the cable car station, waiting for the unprepared tourists that don't have a way to get back to the city center. That was the case for us anyway, until we called our hostel and they called a taxi for us. We only had to wait an hour in the rain!
That afternoon, I headed back to Lam Vien Square to take the pictures I wanted from the previous day. I focused first on the fountain shot and waited for the lights to turn on. The lights eventually turned on but the fountains turned off. It also started to rain again, so I put my plastic bag on the camera whilst Harmony did a few laps of the square to occupy herself and stay warm. The shot of the lotus shaped building was pretty simple... Set up, remove the plastic bag, clean the lens and take the picture. Thankfully, there were only a few people around by this point, so no one really got in the way.
The next morning, it was time to go canyoning! We were going with a company called Highland Sport and it was very easy to book through the hostel. For $40 each, we had the best time ever and so much was included - a big lunch, bottles of water throughout the day, harnesses, helmets, gloves and a wetsuit, but no shoes. That's right - you have to wear your own shoes in the mud, rain and river! So, maybe some hiking shoes would be the better option. For an extra $25 you get to do a few extra things - the main thing being zip lining, but it wasn't really worth it.
The day started when a minibus pulled up outside our hostel and our guides piled us into the back. They were four likeable characters that really knew their stuff, but were also total jokers. They got us to introduce ourselves on the journey and, by the time that was over, we were where we needed to be! I'm not sure where we were exactly, but we were 7km out of Da Lat. I couldn't even guess because Da Lat has so many different rivers and waterfalls nearby!
We all stripped off and got kitted up. Then, it was time for a relatively in-depth "how to" talk and a little bit about safety. There's no such thing as health and safety in Vietnam, but we all felt well looked after! One by one, we were clipped onto a rope and began walking backwards down a wall. Whilst gravity brings you down, you can use the rope for control. We also had a go a jumping out from the wall to speed up the process. Of course, we all had to make improvements to our technique, but everyone had a good first attempt! I felt great! I felt like Action Man!
After a second turn on the practice wall, we walked beside the river to do the real thing. The pathway was pretty well looked after, with bamboo barriers and wooden bridges. We soon found ourselves stood at the top of a fairly substantial drop and a waterfall next to us. Our guides tied up the ropes and clipped us in, and then we went down! Although the group was split into two, the wait was still somewhat ridiculous. I was going last, so that's what I thought anyway, and I needed a wee to! However, when it was my turn, I knew that it was totally worth the wait. Because I was last to go, I felt like my turn was a bit rushed, but I still got to stop for pictures on the way. When I got to the water at the bottom, I rejoiced that I could relieve myself of that wee I needed! I took the time to flush it out of the wetsuit afterwards to, of course!
Things started to get a little riskier from there - thin walkways without a barrier or safety rope. Also, slippery surfaces and the help of just a few tree vines (who knows how stable they were). Nevertheless, we walked to the second rock surface we were abseiling down. It was steep and next to another ferocious waterfall. Once we made it to the bottom, we had to stay tight against the wall until we clipped on to another rope and could walk through the raging river. Just a little bit further down the river, we then had to jump in and simply let it take us down. Admittedly, this was a much less raging part of the river and we were just casually bobbing and plodding along. That is, until we got to another roaring waterfall and a collection of rocks and rapids. This was where we went "water sliding". We perched ourselves comfortably on a rock, the guides held our legs and then they just let go sending us down the falls backwards (headfirst)! If you think this sounds like fun, then you're right! But it's also pretty painful! You emerge from the water completely disorientated with bashed and bruised limbs!
That was followed by more risky river crossings, and then lunch! Laid out for us was a build your own baguette station and a buffet of fruit and sugary snacks. One guide said "you're going to need your energy". What else was to come? What more did we have to endure? It was actually only cliff jumping... Easy! We lined up at the first jump (7m high). "Who wants to go first?" a guide asked. An over-eager girl got in there quick and I was right behind her. She jumped and soon splashed into the water at the bottom. I looked over the edge... That's nothing, I thought. I jumped and flew through the air for a brief second. That's nothing, I thought again. Most people continued jumping, whilst a few gave it a miss. Those that went already lined up to go again. It was my second turn... I hit the water perfectly pointed and went straight to the bottom. It was just soft sand, but the problem was the pressure. It felt like I blew my eardrums and filled them with water. I was done, but others continued to jump from the higher heights of 9 and 11 meters.
The next challenge and our final abseil was what the guides called "The Washing Machine". All of our kit was checked over before we went any further. This made some people excited and made some people anxious. I have to say that I got nervous when I was half way down, looking at what was waiting for me at the bottom. There was no more walking down the wall - it had turned into an over hang. There was just lowering yourself down slowly whilst sitting in your harness. There would be an occasional tug on the rope from the waterfall below and a moment when you would let yourself down too fast. Then came the splashing on your shoulder, and then on your head. Next thing you know, you're completely encompassed by the falls, and then submerged in the water. You don't know if you'll hit a rock. You don't know what way is up. You're just tumbling around as if you're actually in a washing machine. "Was that supposed to happen?" "What just happened?" "Did that really just happen?" Everyone says as they emerge. Watching other people from the bottom is almost as scary! Other than the trauma and many mouthfuls of water in your stomach, it's good to have something to show for it - the many photos that the guides take.
Little did we know that the hardest bit was still to come - the long walk up the steep hillside! There may have been foot holes to help us up, but they were slippery and worthless. Some people nearly didn't make it (me included)! We waited by the roadside and the minibus came whizzing round the corner to our rescue. We got all of our bags and clothes back and headed into the city. People suffered injuries and muscles were aching (especially the next day), but we could finally climb into our beds and relax!
Regardless of needing rest, I went out that evening to take pictures again. It's probably no surprise that it rained, but the humidity was actually the issue on this shoot. Condensation built up inside my camera, and most of the photos came out hazy and washed out. Luckily, I managed to salvage a couple of shots and I'm happy that I learnt that lesson. I went out after dinner as well and had a bit more luck at the night market. I didn’t get the shot exactly how I wanted it, but I did get something different and something cool. At the night market, the roads get shut off to traffic, because the streets flood with people and get filled with stalls. Stalls for clothing, stalls for food and stalls for kids' toys - if you want it, the night market's got it! I loved looking down on the market from a high vantage point and took photos right up until I ran out of memory card space! However, being in and amongst the action is an experience not to be missed.
We were leaving Da Lat the next morning and I'm happy to say that it was a very worthwhile return trip! We did lots of activities and had lots of fun, even though we could've maybe done more. I might not have got all of the photos I wanted, but at least I tried! I would've hated myself if I didn't... You just can't help the rain!