Nicknamed the “Little Paris” of Asia or The City of Eternal Spring, Dalat is distinct from anywhere else you’ll visit in Viet Nam. The city is small enough to remain charming. Da Lat possesses a beauty through a strong French influence in architecture to colorful gardens. Its naturally gifted beauty lies in blue lakes, waterfalls, lush pine forests, rolling hills and gardens. Swanning around the streets, it is lovely to encounter many old French colonial buildings, and deeper in the mountains there are delightful hill-tribe villages while farms and rice paddies can be found everywhere. Visitors to Da Lat love to buy local products including silk, garden vegetables and flowers. It’s the country’s favorite honeymoon spot. The city is never short of fun outdoor opportunities such as hiking, paragliding, horseback riding, kids-friendly horse-and-cart rides and cooking classes. It perfectly suits for company weekend outings and family get-aways.
WHAT TO SEE
Bao Dai Summer Palace
There are three palaces which were built in Da Lat. Of the three, the third is also the most attractive one. It was constructed from 1933 to 1938 and was the living place of the King’s family. The Bao Dai Summer Palace was designed by the collaborative efforts of two architects, one Vietnamese and one French. Bao Dai’s office is imposing with its royal and military seals and flags. Visiting these two storied structures, with its twenty-five rooms and its amenities, visitors will have a chance to discover, how the royal family lived. The ground floor of the office was the working place of the king. It consists of the office room, the guest room and the reception room. Upstairs are the living quarters. The huge semicircular couch was used by the emperor and empress for family meetings. The bedroom of the king also has a gorgeous balcony called the ‘watching moon balcony’ where the king and the queen could contemplate the moonlight. Each room reflects the characteristics and status of the owner: the eldest son’s room is painted yellow, which was considered luxurious at that time, the Queen’s room can be easily identified with her feminine touch.
Just 2km southwest from the centre, you can easily reach to this palace.
Da Lat Railway Station
The Da Lat railway station was established during French colonial times when the station had another name – “Crémaillère Railway Station”. The wonderful art deco train station is no longer connected to the Viet Nam rail network. However, visitors still enjoy the 7 km track run to Trai Mat (about 30 minutes). Be noted that the train won’t leave without at least two passengers. Regarded as one of the finest pieces of colonial engineering and architecture in Viet Nam, the station was designed in harmony with local characteristics and culture. Its three high pointed roofs resemble the three peaks of Lang Biang Mountain or as others have said, the roof represents the Nha Rong, also known as the communal house of ethnic minorities in Central Highland. Each roof contains multi-color glass windows and the roof at the centre has a huge clock which has been recently restored.
Another feature of this railway station is the cog railway that was used to link Dalat and Thap Cham from 1928 to 1964. The railway took 24 years to complete. There are old locomotives on display at the station, including a Japanese steam train, and the classy waiting room retains a colonial feel. During the Viet Nam War, the station was closed.
Lang Biang Mountain
Located on the Lang Biang Plateau of Lam Dong, the mountain is also called Lam Vien. The area has five volcanic peaks ranging in altitude from 2100m to 2400m. The highest peak – Lang Biang – is named by combining the name of a man K’Lang and a woman’s name H’Biang. The highest peak is named after a K’Lang and his lover H’Biang from the legendary love story of the K’Ho minors. Since Lang Biang has the two highest peaks of Lam Vien Highland: Lang Biang (2,167m) and Bidoup Ban (2,287m), it is often reffered toas the roof of Dalat. The mountain is famous for its spectacular nature, as well as its marvelous view of the whole wide area of Dalat City, the forest, the rivers and houses of tribal people. Standing on the top of Lang Biang Mountain, tourists can see the lush green valley of Dalat below, with what looks like two pieces of silver silk: the Golden and Silver Streams running along the valley.
Lam Dong Museum
Not far from the city in the northeast, situated on the hillside, Lam Dong museum used to be at the former Town Hall, and is situated at the end of a romantic road called “the Road of Love”. This modern pink building belonged to Nguyen Huu Hao – father of Queen Nam Phuong (father of Emperor Bao Dai). It displays more than 15,000 items of ancient artifacts, pottery, costumes and musical instruments of the local ethnic minority. Especially, stilt-houses of Ma and K’ho minors were built exactly like the house of native locals. In addition, visitors can find the rocky instruments called Lithopone aging 3,000 – 3,500-year-old, or architecture vestiges and so on. At the side, a wide range of traditional games are available, such as fishing, making pottery, weavings, etc. Lam Dong museum is an ideal place for travelers who wish to understand about customs and habits of Central Highland’s ethnic group.
Truc Lam Pagoda
Located on the top of Phuong Hoang hill, Truc Lam Pagoda matches perfectly with the charming city. You have two options to get there. By the first way, you have to climb 222 steps past the triple-gated entrance to enter the main courtyard after crossing Tuyen Lam lake. The other way is a direct entrance to the temple with 3km long soaring over majestic pine forests. The cable cars are available. No matter which way you choose, you will be strongly impressed by the stunningly beautiful landscapes on the way. Surrounded by splendid gardens, the pagoda features elegant architecture. Inside of the Central Sanctum, there is Shakya Buddha statue. The exterior is a solemn tower, where a great bell is hung. From the monastery, you can walk down to the shore of Tuyen Lam lake where cafes and boats for hire are available.
Valley of Love
Exactly like its name, the Valley of Love had to pass over many obstacles to get it a romantic name as today. When the valley was discovered by the French during the 1930s, they named it “Vallee d’Amour” (Valley of Love). Under the regime of Emperor Bao Dai, the valley was called “Valley of Peace”. In 1953, it got the name “Valley of Love” back and owned it till this day.
Surrounded by lush green pine forests, the beauty of the valley is so poetic that many couples visit here for their honeymoon. Walking along the paths, going through splendid gardens with colorful flowers, visitors reach Vong Canh hill. Across the small bridge, then, the Paradise hill – an isolated place near the Da Thien lake. Only 5km to the north from the center of Dalat, the Valley of Love is worth to come over and to enjoy the landscape here.
Domaine de Marie church
The church is also known as St. Vincent church (it’s the chapel of a sister from Mission of Charity) or Cherry Church (there were cherry trees surrounding this place before). With a total area of 12 ha, the church is located on Ngo Quyen St. that is away from Dalat city 1km to the southwest.
The construction was started from 1930 to 1943. It consists of the main church and two convents, representing typical 17th-century French style through an isosceles triangle with small arched windows and a rose-shaped window. In addition, the church architecture is perfectly combined with Vietnamese arrangement, especially the roof is designed replicating the stilt house of ethnic minorities in central highland. Behind the church, there is a grave of madam Decoux – who made a great contribution to the church during the construction period. Today, the church is home to 50 Roman Catholic nuns, and they make handicrafts and sell fruit to support themselves.
Waterfall: Datanla, Prenn
Away from the city centre about 10 km on national highway number 20, Datanla waterfall is a can’t-missed destination. The first impression is echoed from falling water on the downside. It is not easy to realize the hiding fall as it is surrounded by pine forest. According to the legend of ethnic minorities living in central highland, Datanla is where the hero K’lang met the beauty Ho Biang. It was also the place that he fought with two cobras, seven wolves and two foxes. Then, a deep hole was created as the fight’s consequence. From then, it was the dating place of the couple.
The name “Datanla” originated from its ethnic name “Da Tam N’nha” which means “there is water under leaves”.
WHAT TO EAT
A must-try specialty in Dalat is “nem nướng”. It is a fresh, roll-your-own spring roll. Fill thin sheets of rice paper with a variety of herbs (including perilla leaf, sweet basil, chives, mint), add the nem nướng (so-called grilled pork patty), then some chả ram bắp (crispy, fried sweet corn and rice paper rolls), pickled radish, carrot, and shallots, and roll it all up before dipping it in a thickpeanut sauce. You will be surprised at a brilliant balance of textures, flavors and colors.
Banh trang nuong
It is a thin circle of rice paper with various ‘toppings’ on it that’s grilled over coals until crispy: quail eggs, spring onions and tiny – almost tasteless – shrimp. Rice cakes grilled in little terracotta half dome molds, better known as “Bánh Căn“, is tasty. Often a quail egg is broken inside, then the lids are put on until they cook through. Once unveiled, the two halves are united to form one light, fluffy ball of crisp goodness.
Bò kho (beef stew)
“Bò kho” (beef stew) is a hearty, spicy and aromatic broth with diced beef, carrot and lemongrass. “Bò kho” can be served with a warm baguette for dunking or served with noodles, and is almost always accompanied by half a dozen types of the fresh herb.
WHAT TO BUY
Da Lat is famous for dried and candied fruits, strawberries, coffee, green and artichoke tea, local wine, orchids, avocados, and so forth. Do not miss colorful and vibrant Dalat Market and you will find almost everything at dozens of small stalls selling a wide variety of goods, from clothes to wine and from coffee makers to electronics. Unlike other big cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, there is a limited selection of high-end handicrafts, however, Dalat is well-known for handmade embroidered pictures, which can be found at the central Dalat market and many galleries nearby.