My original plan was to travel north from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang by train and then on to Da Lat by bus. Unfortunately, in March of this year a barge struck and destroyed a span of a railway bridge in Dong Nai province. Built by the French more than a century ago, the Ghenh Bridge is scheduled to be replaced by July, but some have speculated that the completion date is overly optimistic. Until the bridge over the Dong Nai River is completed, railway service in southern Vietnam will effectively begin and end at Bien Hoa Railway station. Passengers who purchase tickets from Saigon station will make the 22 mile (35 km) trip to Bien Hoa by bus.
Although taking the bus to Bien Hoa is really only a minor inconvenience, I decided to take a break from trains and buses and flew to Da Lat. The former French hill station is very popular with Vietnamese for weekend getaways. Da Lat’s cool temperature and rolling hills are the perfect escape from Saigon’s heat and humidity. On weekdays discount flights can be booked on Jetstar or Vietjet for less than $25 USD.
Da Lat is also a popular backpacker’s destination, although most of the sights in the city are fairly underwhelming. Being a history buff, I enjoyed visiting the summer palace of Vietnam’s last emperor Boa Dai. Like the Reunification Palace in HCMC, the summer palace is another time capsule filled with relics of the 1950’s. The other highlight of my trip to Da Lat was the cable car ride to Thien Vien Truc Lam Monastery. The cable car ride takes roughly 25 minutes and costs a mere 50,000 VND, or just over $2 USD.
The four-hour bus trip between Da Lat and Nha Trang is well traveled by foreign visitors. The winding drive through the mountains is absolutely breathtaking. A number of companies make this trip daily for as little as $6 USD. Tickets can be purchased through guest houses and hotels in Da Lat. Travelers in Nha Trang can buy tickets from one of the many travel agencies in this tourism hub.
On many internet forums bus travel in Vietnam is often described as unsafe and is discouraged. I can see the merit in these arguments; roads are often narrow and the drivers tend to operate the buses in such a way that definitely appears to be unsafe.
I suppose you have to weigh the risks against the rewards. Some people suggest to only travel during daylight hours. That makes sense to me; you would miss all the beautiful scenery taking the night bus.
Nha Trang is a beach resort town which is especially popular with Russian families and couples. It also attracts its fair share of backpackers and other travelers as Nha Trang is a major stop on the railway line connecting HCMC and Hanoi. It is also considered to be Vietnam’s premier SCUBA diving center. Besides the beach the city has a number of interesting sites to see which include the Cham built Po Nagar temple and Long Song Pagoda.
Until next time,