Climbing Lang Biang, Dalat, Vietnam
I thought today would be a walk in the park – literally. I was wrong. You would think by now I would have learnt to do my research, wouldn’t you?
I’m in Dalat, a city in southern Vietnam that has a reputation as a bit of an alpine holiday destination for the locals. There’s nothing particularly alpine about it in reality but the Vietnamese here are all rugged up in scarves and beanies. Meanwhile, I’m walking around in shorts and a shirt. I guess temperature is all relative.
Anyway, I digress. Dalat is known also for the nature that surrounds it and there are plenty of activities to do if you want to experience some of the countryside in the area. Tour companies in town prominently display trips to go hiking, canyoning, cycling, and all sorts of other intrepid day outings.
I’m never a fan of these kind of tours because, unless it’s something you can’t do on your own, I fear you’re going to go to a bunch of sites you don’t really want to see, with lunch at a crappy touristy restaurant, and a timetable you might prefer to break out of. So I can’t speak to the quality of any of the ones on offer.
Instead, I decided to do my own thing. As you probably know by now, I like hiking so I thought I would go for a trek to a popular spot nearby – Lang Biang mountain. Without any tour company to transport me there, I was determined to walk to the start of the track. There are public buses that ply that route but I like to stretch my legs and it wasn’t too far. Although, again, distance is all relative.
So I walk to the bottom of Lang Biang, which turns out to be about 10 kilometres and takes me less than two hours. There’s an official entry point here, which I wasn’t expecting, and it costs 20,000 dong (US$1) to get in.
There are quite a few local tourists loitering around the entrance. As it turns out, they’re waiting to catch a jeep up to the top. I’ve walked this far, so I keep on walking. It’s uphill but nothing too strenuous. Then I get to the turn off to the Lang Biang peak.
The jeeps keep driving past me here – in a different direction! Ah, so there are two peaks, I find out, and the jeeps are going to a different one, not Lang Biang. The only way to get there is to walk. Fine by me, that was the plan anyway. Although there is another checkpoint where I have to pay another 20,000 dong (US$1).
But this is where things turn out to be a bit different to what I expected. Because I had assumed there was a road the whole way, I had imagined it would be a fairly relaxed route. But now, suddenly, I’m on a dirt track. It’s quite peaceful so at first I’m relieved – no jeeps whizzing past me with their side mirrors just centimetres from my arm.
At first the path is wide and quite flat. I can see the top of Lang Biang through the trees for the first time. Hmmm… it still looks quite a distance. And quite high up too.
My fear that I wasn’t as close as I hoped becomes apparent within minutes when the track narrows and dives into thick foliage. The view of the mountain is obscured and so is the sun. I’m now starting a fairly steep ascent.
The path gets muddy and slippery. Thankfully there are step-like levels built into the track with wooden boards which helps me not slide back down. But it does make each step a bit harder, as I lumber up. On a few occasions, fallen trees block the way and I have to climb over them. Or a step is so high that I need to grab onto a hanging branch to pull myself up.
I wouldn’t say it’s extremely hard, but it’s not quite walking along the side of the road. Also, by this point, I have run out of water and my mouth is as dry as my back is wet. You would think by now I would have learnt to be prepared for this kind of thing, wouldn’t you?
Eventually I get to the top and look back down the path, almost dismissing its difficulty. Perhaps it was just the unexpected that had thrown me – it really didn’t take that long! (About an hour from the second checkpoint.)
Then I actually feel a bit of pride because at the top I find a few groups of hikers who had all come with tour groups from Dalat and had local guides with them. A few people ask in astonishment whether I had done the walk by myself. Now I wasn’t complaining, I was wearing it as a badge of honour.
The views are decent but not overly spectacular. I rest for a little while then set out again for the bottom. I really need to get down and find some water. It doesn’t take nearly as long going downhill and is quite an easy hike. I’m back down in about half the time. Then I only have the walk back to Dalat ahead of me.
By the time I get back, My phone tells me that I have done a total of 43,000 steps and climbed 197 floors (how does it know these things, by the way – it’s a bit creepy!) It seems like a good accomplishment.
So, a walk in the park, it was not. But a good day out with a decent hike through some nice scenery? Well, that it was.
Where should you stay in Dalat?
For the most comfortable hostel, I definitely recommend Mooka’s Home with great beds.
A cheap option at a standard hotel in a good location is Phuong Vy 2.
For a rather special experience you won’t get anywhere else, have a look at the Crazy House.
And if you are looking for a four star hotel in a prime location, Ngoc Lan Hotel is your best option.