Since Da Lat is a popular destination with Vietnamese and foreigners alike, there are several transportation options for getting there. The train, however, does not run into the hills so you are limited to bus or plane, unless you consider renting a motorbike or car and driver in Saigon.
To rent a motorbike, you’ll need to be an experienced rider, as the journey passes many twists and turns as it approaches the highlands. A rented car with driver can be a good idea if you plan to explore the Central Highlands, though you can also do that with the Easy Riders.
Both open-tour and regular buses make the journey to Da Lat, so if you also plan to visit Nha Trang or other coastal towns, an open-tour ticket may be convenient. However, the journey, which takes around seven-to-eight hours is long and can be cramped and uncomfortable, so it may be better to take the short flight from Saigon instead.
There are daily flights from both Saigon and Hanoi. Da Lat airport is about 30kms south of the city, but Vietnam Airlines run a shuttle service into town. Otherwise there are taxis which ply the route but remember to agree a fare with the driver before setting off.
Getting Around Da Lat and the Central Highlands
Da Lat’s rugged terrain limits the options for getting around town, as the hills are too steep for cyclos, and you’d need to be a brave cyclist to rent a bicycle here. Fortunately, the city centre is quite compact, so it’s possible to get lots of places on foot, but for anywhere further afield, you’ll need a taxi or motorbike taxi.
Your hotel can easily arrange either for you, or call Mai Linh Taxis. Motorbike taxis (xe om) usually hang around near the market looking for fares. Another option is renting a motorbike for around US$7-$8 a day, but you’ll need a good sense of direction as the town’s streets form a veritable maze, constantly doubling back on themselves.
One interesting option for exploring the area around Da Lat, or even the Central Highlands or entire country, is to enlist the services of an Easy Rider, who can be contacted at 70 Phan Dinh Phung. This group of motorbike guides have received great praise from visitors who have used them, but they have now become so popular that there are many copycats and you need to be sure your rider is competent. Try a day trip before committing yourself to a week of clinging on for dear life as a pillion passenger.
To take a good look at the Central Highlands, it’s more advisable to rent a car and driver, though of course it’s more expensive too (between US$30 and US$50 a day depending whether it’s a new car and the driver speaks English). In this way, you can visit Lak Lake, Buon Ma Thuot, Yok Don National Park, Plei Ku and Kon Tum all in relative comfort – a memorable journey into the land of the E De, the Jarai and the Bahnar, with their towering rong, or communal longhouses.