So named after a Romeo and Juliet-esque love story that ends in bittersweet death (like much of Dalat’s lore), Lang Bian Mountain consists of three peaks – the most visited being an old American army radar base and landing pad; and the other two Lang Bian (2,167 meters) and an unnamed peak (2,124 meters). The tourist area is located at the 1,929 meter mark on the radar base, and houses a small minority shop where you can buy locally made cloth, purses, bags, wallets and more.
Upon entering the gate to Lang Bian – you’ll see the Disney-fonted “Langbiang” sign (which is the Vietnamese spelling) gracing the slope ahead – you pay an entrance fee of VND20,000 per adult and VND10,000 per child.
You have three ways to get up the mountain: take one of the decade-old green Russian jeeps (15 minutes); hike up by foot (around 2-3 hours); or take your own motorbike up (15-20 minutes).
We opted for the jeep to save time. You can purchase tickets at the booth further in from the gate and to the right, but be forewarned: they might try to rip you off. The jeep is VND300,000 per six people, or VND50,000 per person. However, sometimes they’ll try and make you pay the full amount even if you have less than six in your group.
Luckily our group had some Vietnamese speakers who amended the snafu. If you have a small group, simply indicate that you want to go with some of the others in line, or coordinate with whoever’s behind you before purchasing your ticket to ensure that you get six people in a car.
The jeep drives hastily up the cement road and stops near the 1,950 meter mark. On the way up, we noticed that a motorbike ride up would be quite daunting to the inexperienced driver, and should be left to those who know what they’re doing. Otherwise, we recommend digging those heels in for a lengthy ascent or ponying up the VND for the jeep ride.
As you stray away from the parking lot atop the mountain, you can see some sweeping vistas of Dalat city and the ubiquitous, never-ending flora painting the landscape, most noticeably the Golden and Silver Streams.
Around the tourist area is a café and eatery, both decently priced. The eatery’s menu offers up some eclectic meats (for foreigners, at least), like crocodile, ostrich and rabbit. We skipped the food (purportedly it was terrible, according to one of our group who’d been up the mountain before) and headed to some stone steps leading upwards.
Beside the steps is a poorly maintained bathroom with no toilet paper (get some of your own, especially if you plan to try the food). This is the only bathroom here, so be forewarned.
Up the steps is a decent photo-op location with statues and set pieces and a minority-run shop. The elevation is marked beside a stone eagle as 1,950 meters.
Not too far off are Lang Bian's namesake lovers – the statues of K'lang and Ho Biang. Their story has two versions – all inevitably end in death. A stone placard near the two gives blander story: two members of different minority tribes fall in love and get married, but are kept apart by their people. Distraught, both kill themselves.
The death sequence varies. In the second version, the wife's tribe attempts to kill the husband with a poison dart, but at the last moment Ho Biang jumps in front of her lover and gets fatally poisoned in his stead. Devastated, K'lang literally gives meaning to the expression "cry me a river" and sheds enough tears to form Dankia, aka the Golden Stream.
Both versions have Ho Biang's father so upset from the ordeal that he unites the minority tribes into a unified group called the K'Ho so members of different tribes can marry one another. The graves of K'lang and Ho Biang then grow into two of three peaks that make up Lang Bian.
The photo-ops consist of some free set pieces like the statues, a swing seat, and potted garden plants. Some hilariously distasteful paid options include posing with fake guns by an old American army jeep, you know, to really solidify the Vietnamese experience.
The minority-owned shop has homemade bags, purses, wallets, cloth and a few other knick-knacks made by the K’Ho (the same K’Ho from the story earlier). The prices are above those in the city below, but you may want to buy it here to support the K'Ho.
We spoke to the shopkeepers to see what their deal was. Apparently, the government has a facility for the K'Ho where they are trained in crafting modern items such as purses and bags. Each family also receives a machine that helps the K'Ho make these items at home, which they later bring up Lang Bian to sell.
These slightly above market price wares are, as the K'Ho claim, their only source of income. Each shopkeeper is selling their own products and thus gets flustered if you don't buy from them, or if you buy two items from the same shopkeeper. This can be quite annoying, but understandable since they don't have much else going for them.
Wallets, bags and purses range from VND30,000 to VND40,000, and wrap-around cloths are VND150,000. These, of course, are not set prices, and you're free to haggle.
While you're up there, say hello ("Niem Sa" in K'Ho) to a woman named Roong Linda. She was the only shopkeeper there that spoke some decent English, along with fluent Vietnamese and some Russian. She's been teaching herself several languages over the years, and is quite fun to talk to.
Once you're ready to head down, be prepared for a more harried ride. The jeep goes faster downhill and takes only about 7 minutes to get to the base of the mountain. If you have kids with you, feel free to tell the driver to slow down ("Cham lai").
Once you're back near the gate, you might want to stop by the hill with Disneyfied Lang Bian sign. There are some workers in cowboy getups meandering with their "zebras" – more accurately, horses painted with black stripes. Up close, the paint job is quite amusing. You may also spot a blue-eyed horse roaming about the hillside.
If you're up for it, take a left once you exit the gate – you’ll wind around a few streets of Lat houses and check out the kind of abodes these minorities live in.