With fresh mountain air and French flair, the Central Highlands city of Dalat can easily put you into a European state of mind
Once the former mountain retreat of French colonial governors hankering after a bit of European weather in subtropical Indochina, Dalat has now emerged as a honeymoon destination and a short-haul getaway in which to escape the sticky heat of Ho Chi Minh City. The city is small and walkable. With lush green mountains, abandoned French mansions, a radio tower modelled on the Eiffel Tower and a mercifully cool climate, Dalat is probably the most European a Vietnamese city can get. Furthermore, its green checkerboard carpet of terraced vegetable farms, greenhouses and flower gardens that pepper the hills, highlight why Dalat is termed the vegetable basket of Vietnam. It has long supplied the whole country with fresh produce. It also has a thriving coffee culture that can rival those of any big city. If you pack all these things into a bowl-shaped valley, you will have Vietnam’s answer to the French Alps.
Things to do
Get lost in the kitsch Hang Nga Crazy House opens in new window. The owner was an architect trained in Russia, and the adopted daughter of Ho Chi Minh’s second-in-command. She shared the same architectural vision as Gaudi and Dali. It is as much a place for sightseeing as a guesthouse. The Crazy House is the Vietnamese version of the Hundertwasser House in Vienna.
Choo-ing into history
Soak up the history at Dalat railway station. The station blends Art Deco style with Central Highlands housing architecture. It is a fascinating survivor of the country’s colonial past. Built in 1932 by two French architects, Dalat train station was inspired by the stations of Southern France. In 1908 a rail service, inaugurated from Dalat to Phan Rang - Thap Cham, was introduced under French rule. However, the war then forced the closure of the route. Since 1991, a 7km-long route from Dalat to Trai Mat has been brought back into use for the purpose of tourism.
Old school java
Get a caffeine fix at Café Tung, which has been around since 1955. Everything is exactly what they were 58 years ago: from its wainscoted walls; dark brown akai-upholstered couches; faded oil paintings and Jacques Brel posters to its low triangular-shaped tables. It was once the epicentre of the city’s intellectual and artistic life.
Visit Linh Phuoc Pagoda opens in new window, a Disneyland-like pagoda complex prettified with coloured glass recycled from old beer bottles. Construction started in 1949 by some monks and Buddhists of the Mahayana sect from Hue, and it was completed in 1952. The whole complex showcases high levels of craftsmanship with intricate ceramic mosaic work and broken glazed tiles.
Visit the Summer Palace of Bao Dai opens in new window — the 13th and last emperor of Vietnam’s Nguyen Dynasty who reigned until the end of the monarchy in the mid-1940s. Perched high on a pine-clad hill, the Summer Palace is where he and his family lived before he stepped down in 1945. Built in 1928, the whole complex is inspired by European art deco architecture. A walk around the Summer Palace offers an interesting glimpse into the life of the country’s last emperor.
CBD 30km south of the city
Taxi 30–40 minutes (USD $10)
Shuttle bus 30-40 minutes (USD $2)Back to top
When to go
Dalat is the only place in Vietnam where you can experience literally four seasons within one day and where traffic lights are virtually nonexistent. Average temperatures range from 15–24°C so be prepared to pack some warm clothes for the evenings. The dry season takes place from December to March while the rainy season takes place from April to November.
The Dalat Flower Festival (with various activities such as flower exhibition fairs and flower parades) is held every two years since 2005, taking place at the end of the year.Back to top