Location: Da Lat, Vietnam
Da Lat is a curvy mountain city that slopes downward toward the center valley. It’s chilly most nights and mornings and it rains almost every afternoon. And it doesn’t just drizzle here; it downpours so hard the streets flood and if you’re unlucky (like me) you can end up trudging through puddles up to your shins.
But the soft beauty of the town is worth the bad weather. The air is fresh and smells of pines. The buildings are mostly older and elegant. There’s lots of faded pastel paints and intricate, rusting grates to look at. The surrounding area is completely covered in greenhouses and there’s bright, colorful produce for sale on most corners. All the streets seem to curve, creating spirals around the city that you can follow. When you peer between buildings or through alleyways, you can see down the slope to the next layer of street below.
I’ve been splitting most of my time (when I’m not on nature-adventure tours) between two hostels: Wolfpack and Da Lat Family. Both are cheap, dorm-style, family-run havens for young nomads.
Da Lat Family Hostel is well-known to travelers as a fun, kind-of-crazy environment. All the members of the family that runs it are characters. Darling and Annie, the two daughters, flirt with all the male customers and are always cracking jokes with patrons. Mama, who seems to take care of most of the business, is constantly cooking something or other and force-feeding it to anyone who walks in the doors. Her voice is loud and she likes to dance and sing to whatever beat is playing in her head.
Wolfpack hosts a $3 all-you-can-eat feast in its main room every night. You sit on the floor with other backpackers around endless plates of rice, pan-fried chicken, spicy eggplant, pork-and-egg buns, chunky potato soup, crispy pork, and toasted baguettes. Beers aren’t included, but they’re $0.50 a pop.
After dinner, everyone usually hangs around Wolfpack, smoking cigarettes on the front porch or playing drinking games and chatting with other travelers inside. It’s nice, really. Most people are exhausted from just finishing up a canyoning tour earlier in the day or preparing for one the next morning so nobody is looking to get particularly trashed. There also isn’t much of a nightlife scene in Da Lat unless you’re in the mood to karaoke or club (and pay big money for drinks at both options). So instead this very chill atmosphere flourishes, leaving you tipsy, relaxed, and laughing at each evening’s end.