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.
Things to do
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.Back to top
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.Back to top
Dalat is a very walkable town; for longer distances there are plenty of taxis (stick with the reliable Mai Linh brand) and xe om (motorcycle taxis) – make sure you agree on a price before you set off. Or take a tour with the Dalat Easy Riders opens in new window.
Bicycle rental is available from many hotels for around VND 100,000 per day – check if your hotel offers free rental to guests. And remember it's a very hilly place!Back to top