Dalat, located a few hours north of Ho Chi Minh City in the mountains of the Central Highlands, offers welcome respite from the steamy heat of southern Vietnam. The town itself is very pleasant, but the main attraction is the area’s nature.

Pine forests spread into the hills, while waterfalls offer adrenaline-fueled thrills for adventurous visitors. One of the most popular outdoor draws is canyoning, which features abseiling down waterfalls and zip lining. Several outdoor companies offer canyoning tours in valleys around the area. On a recent escape to the cool mountain air of Dalat, I booked a daylong adventure through Dalat Tourism, along with some friends.

The terrain

After being picked up at our hotel we were taken to the Datanla waterfall, where the expert guides fitted us out with helmets, gloves and harnesses. We practiced abseiling from the base of a tree down a gentle slope to get a hang of the technique, and then walked down to the falls.

We had several obstacles ahead of us, ranging in difficulty and height. The first abseil took us straight down into a pool of water, from which we could still see the crowds of tourists admiring the falls. With that out of the way, we hiked deeper into the narrow valley. Eventually all signs of civilisation disappeared, and we were surrounded by pine trees and the sound of rushing water.

Our guides led the way, and they carefully explained everything we would be doing. Their confidence was infectious and left us all feeling great. The next part of the course was a zip line that ran about 15 meters from the top of a small waterfall into the stream. Flying through the air before splashing into the water was an exhilarating feeling.

Next up was the water slide, where you can slide feet-first and head-first down into a pool as many times as you please. This stop is a bit bumpy, but going down a natural slide is quite unique. We then had a great lunch prepared by the guides before moving on to the biggest challenge of the day.

Getting ready to dive down

At 25 meters high, the next waterfall is imposing. The head guide walked out into the middle of the stream to set up the ropes, as we would be abseiling down the center of the fall. My heart was pounding by the time my turn came up, and as I clipped into the rope, the guide told me to look up at him often, as he would signal if I needed to make any changes in direction. We were also told to remove our shoes, as socks or bare feet provide more grip.

The first stretch wasn’t unlike the other falls we had already conquered, but halfway down you have to go over and down a rocky lip, which brings you directly under the power of the fall. With water pounding down on you it is impossible to hear anything, so the guides communicate with hand signals. The rope isn’t long enough to reach the bottom, so when you are about 10 feet from the end, one of the guides counts down from three and you let go. The rope slides out of your harness and you fall into the pool at the bottom, adrenaline coursing through your body.

We regrouped after this rush and hiked on to a two-level ledge, from which you can jump into a deep pool below. Depending on how brave you are, you can jump from 14 meters, while more sensible visitors take the plunge from 11 meters high. Since the wet season had just started the water level wasn’t high enough to allow jumps from the top, so we all took the ‘lower’ jump. This still slams you into the water at high speed, and you’d do well to hold your nose and eyes closed at impact.

More canyoning

Finally, it was time for the last challenge, known as “the washing machine”, so named because you abseil from an overhang into the waterfall, spinning you around until you get dumped back into the stream. Everyone made it through successfully with huge smiles, and we hiked for 20 minutes out of the valley to the road where our van was waiting for us. It had been a thrilling day in the wilderness; just the sort of escape Dalat is perfect for.

by Michael Tatarski

Michael Tatarski is a freelance journalist and editor who has lived in Ho Chi Minh City since 2010. He has covered a range of topics for several publications, with a focus on the environment, travel and culture. Follow him on Twitter @miketatarski.