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.

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Things to do

  • Artistic genius

    Get lost in the kitsch and otherworldly Hang Nga Crazy House opens in new window, as much a sightseeing highlight as a guesthouse. 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, and her Crazy House is the Vietnamese version of Vienna's famous Hundertwasser House.

  • History training

    Dalat railway station, a fascinating survivor of the country’s colonial past, blends Art Deco style with Central Highlands housing architecture. Built in 1932 by two French architects, it was inspired by the stations of Southern France. Though the original route was closed during the war, a 7km tourist route from Dalat to Trai Mat keeps the station in use.

  • Old school java

    Get a historic caffeine fix at Café Tung, which has been around since 1955 when it was the epicentre of the city’s intellectual and artistic life. Everything is just as it was all those years ago: wainscoted walls, dark brown upholstered couches, faded oil paintings, Jacques Brel posters and low triangular tables. 

  • Remote beauty

    Visit opens in new windowLinh Phuoc Pagoda, a Disneyland-like pagoda complex prettified with coloured glass recycled from old beer bottles. Constructed between 1949 and 1952 by the monks and Buddhists of Hue's Mahayana sect, the whole complex showcases high levels of craftsmanship with intricate ceramic mosaic work and glazed tiles.

  • Royal visit

    Visit the Summer Palace of Bao Dai, the 13th and last emperor of Vietnam’s Nguyen Dynasty, who reigned and lived here with his family until he stepped down in 1945. Perched high on a pine-clad hill, the Summer Palace was built in 1928 and inspired by European Art Deco architecture.

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Airport information

CBD 30km south of the city

Taxi 3040 minutes (USD $10)

Shuttle bus 30-40 minutes (USD $2)

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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 1524°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.

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Getting around

By taxi (local taxi operators include Dalat Taxi and Mai Linh Taxi)

By motorbike (rent a motorbike at most hotels for about USD $5 per day or register with Easy Riders, a group of motorbike taxi drivers who offer a one-day tour for $12 to $20)

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