Vietnam's answer to the French Alps

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 mountain retreat of French colonial governors hankering after a bit of European weather in subtropical Indochina, Dalat has emerged as a honeymoon destination and short-haul getaway, where Vietnamese and tourists alike escape the sticky heat of Ho Chi Minh City.

The city is small and walkable, and has a thriving coffee culture that can rival that of any big city. 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. Plus, the region is blanketed with a green checkerboard carpet of terraced vegetable farms, greenhouses and flower gardens, highlighting why it's called the vegetable basket of Vietnam, having long supplied the whole country with fresh produce.

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Things to do: Dalat

  • 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

Lien Khuong Airport opens in new window (DLI)

Distance to city centre 30km

Taxi Fixed-price taxis are available at arrivals, choose a reliable brand like Mai Linh. The trip takes around 45 minutes and costs VND 200,000-250,000.

Shuttle The airport shuttle takes around 40 minutes and costs VND 40,000-50,000.

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When to go

Dalat is the only place in Vietnam where you can experience four seasons within one day. Average temperatures range from 15-24°C, so be prepared to pack some warm clothes for the evenings. The dry season is from December to March, while the rainy season takes hold from April to November.

The colourful Dalat Flower Festival takes place in December of every second year, with activities such as exhibitions, fairs and flower parades.

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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 US$5 per day or register with Easy Riders opens in new window, a group of motorbike taxi drivers who offer a one-day tour for $12 to $20)

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