Dalat is a city located on Lang Biang highlands – part of the Central Highlands region of Vietnam. Because of its history, special architecture, unique climate features and wide range of beautiful spots, Dalat is known as one of the most popular tourist destinations of Vietnam.
Dalat looks like a cross between Vietnam and the French Alps. Many of its hotels and houses were built in a French style during the French colonization. There are many places for tourists interested in architecture to visit, such as Dalat Railway Station, designed by French architects Moncet and Reveron, or Hang Nga guest house, a.k.a ‘Crazy house’ which is also an interesting place to stay.
The climate in Dalat is often called ‘Eternal Spring’ for its pleasantly warm temperatures during the day and quite cool at night, down to perhaps 10oC. Due to its favorable weather, Dalat is a supplier of temperate produce for all over Vietnam, for example, cabbage and cauliflower. Also, it has a nickname ‘City of Flowers’.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL
Like other mountainous areas in the Middle of Vietnam, Da Lat has 2 main seasons: dry season and rain season. The wet season is often from April to October, so it could be better for visitors to come to Da Lat in the period of time from November to March. It is dry and very comfortable, so that the travelers can totally relax with the clean environment here and visit many fascinating natural destinations like Xuan Huong Lake or The Valley of Love. Moreover, this period of time is the season of flowers in Da Lat when colorful flowers are bloomed brilliantly everywhere. There is an annual flower festival in January in Da Lat, when many unique types of flowers from the city and other areas in Vietnam are exhibited.
Da Lat is well connected to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City by daily flights operated by Vietnam Airlines. Lien Khuong Airport saw a major renovation and reopened in October 2009, expanding in its size, capacity and level of luxury. About 30 km away from city center, the airport is served by a crew of taxi ($10 to Dalat) and shuttle bus ($2 one way to Dalat).
Flight time from Dalat to Ho Chi Minh City is about 45 minutes and to Hanoi is about 1 hour 40 minutes. Price ranges between $45 and $90 one way for economy class, depending on where and when you book your ticket.
Though out of the way, Dalat’s prestige as a popular destination leads to the operation of many bus services. Public buses are slightly cheaper than minivan though not as comfortable. From Ho Chi Minh City, Mui Ne or Nha Trang, you can book your bus ticket (recommended companies include Mai Linh and Phuong Trang) to Dalat from most travel agent or bus company office. In high season (June to August), obtain your ticket at least 1 day in advance to secure your sheet.
Here are approximate times for journeys to and from Da Lat:
Ho Chi Minh City: 308 km (7 hours)
Mui Ne, Phan Thiet: 257 km (5 hours)
Nha Trang: 205 km (4 hours)
Di Linh: 82 km (2 hours)
Dalat Airport (DLI)
About 30 km South of city center, Dalat Airport (DLI) is officially called Lien Khuong International Airport. Since its recently renovation in 2009, Lien Khuong Airport has grown into the second largest airport in the South of Vietnam, only after Tan Son Nhat International Airport of Ho Chi Minh City. Located conveniently on Highway 22, the airport can be reached by most vehicles. A car or taxi ride takes about 30-40 minutes from the city centre to the airport, depending on traffic.
Vietnam Airlines and Air Mekong are currently the only two airlines that serve Lien Khuong Airport. There are direct flights connecting Dalat with Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. One way ticket costs on average US$80 and $45 respectively. Ticket cost will depend on the airlines, how well in advance you book and the agent that you make your reservation with.
From Dalat Airport to city center:
A number of taxis will be waiting for you outside of the arrival gate, the most popular names including Phuong Trang, Thang Loi and Mai Linh. One way travel from the airport to downtown of Dalat should not cost more than VND 200,000 (or $10). In front of the luggage pick-up lounge of the airport, you can also reserve for the airport transfer service to the city. Take the receipt with you and show it to the taxi driver as you exit the airport.
Shuttle bus runs frequently to pick up passengers flying from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Shuttle bus ticket can be purchased for VND 40,000 (or $2) from the same ticket booth in front of the luggage pick-up area.
ATTRACTIONS IN DA LAT
VALLEY OF LOVE
Valley of Love is one of the most romantic spots in Dalat. Located about 5km north of the center of Dalat city, it was originally given a name of Valley of Peace under the Emperor Bao Dai and then was changed into the current name. Valley of Love is attractive with its deep valleys and evergreen pine forests. In 1972, there was a dam built across the valley forming Da Thien Lake, which much enhances the seductive beauty here and helps make the valley a common stop for tourists whenever coming to Dalat.
Visitors can walk along the paths or climb numerous steps up, going through the gate decorated with lots of colorful flowers to reach the Vong Canh Hill, from which the Valley of Love appears beautiful and poetic. Besides, it is very interesting for travelers to cross the small bridge to visit a lyrical place surrounded by water, the Paradise Hill. Coming here will bring tourists terrific chances to fish and confide in each other. There are also many exciting activities to enjoy such as paddle boats, 15-person canoes, noise-making motorboats, horse riding with horse rented by cowboy-dressed guides here. Valley of Love has long been a favorite destination for tourists nationwide, especially for honeymooners thanks to its romantic and dreaming sceneries.
DALAT FLOWER PARK
Once coming to “the city of thousands flowers” – Dalat – in Vietnam Central Highlands, it would be a huge mistake for tourists to skip its collection of flower gardens. From the city’s immense one to local farms, people are supposed to be drown in the beauty of this “Kingdom of flowers”. The best time to see the vast charming attractiveness of this Dalat “speciality” is in winter season, especially in December and January when the Flower Festival is held.
Being the top must-see in Dalat, this 7000 m² park is located at the end of Xuan Huong Lake, close to the romantic Cu Hill, just about 2km from the city centre. This used-to-be Bich Cau Flower Garden has been renovated and renamed to a flower garden of the city, where visitors can enjoy the biggest selection of flowers in Dalat. It’s also an appealing attraction on the occasion of annual Flower Festival, with hundreds kinds of species such as: ortensiaes, mimosas, roses, as well as other imported kinds like daffodils or lilies. Especially, this natural museum houses a garden of orchids and a garden of thousands cactus from Africa.
HANG NGA GUESTHOUSE ( Crazy House)
Dalat has the power to not only romanticize but also inspire people to go beyond their limits. Hang Nga guesthouse, also known as the “Crazy House,” is a piece of artwork that really surpasses the limit of people’s imagination. Designed by Vietnamese architect and impressionist Dang Viet Nga, this extraordinary building of non-rectilinear shapes has appeared in many international architectural journals and finally made its way to the list of the world’s ten most creative buildings (according to the Chinese People’s Daily).
As the intention of the architect is to make a fairy tale house, the “crazy house” resembles a tree with uneven windows, tunnel-shaped stairways, etc. Both the exterior and the interior of the guesthouse are created and decorated with twisting organic forms and very few right angles. The hollow “tree” extends in many directions, rising above to reach to the sky of the amazing Dalat. Walking along the cave-shape hallways inside the house is not simply a visit but an exhilarating experience, a departure from the norm; wild mushrooms and spider webs popping up on your way is not unusual.
TRUC LAM PAGODA
Truc Lam Buddhist Pagoda is located on Phuong Hoang Mountain, by Tuyen Lam Lake in Ward 3, Dalat City, Lam Dong Province. Truc Lam Buddhist Pagoda is located amidst beautiful natural scenery. This is the biggest pagoda in Dalat City. Though established in 1994, Truc Lam Pagoda has become famous. Standing in Phoenix Mountain, Truc Lam Pagoda is about 1,300m above the sea-level.
The pagoda is surrounded by pure lake water and pine trees. A road from Tuyen Lam Lake leads to 222 steps and then to Truc Lam Pagoda. Inside the main chamber is a Buddha statue sitting on a lotus stage. Next to the main chamber is a campanile with a two-layer roof. This gently architecture and fresh air around the pagoda offer visitors a peacefull atmosphere. Tourists visit Truc Lam pagoda to learn more about Buddhism and to enjoy beautiful landscapes.
DA LAT CATHEDRAL
Dalat Cathedral is located on Tran Phu Street, Dalat City, near Novotel Hotel.This is one of the most antique and typical architecture constructions of Dalat. Dalat Cathedral is also the largest church in Dalat City. Another name of it is the Chicken Church since there is a statue of a chicken on the top of the tower. The Church is constructed from 1931 to 1942 with the length of 65 meters, width of 14 meters and height of 47 meters. You can see the top of the tower from many places in the city.
The upper part of the walls is decorated with 70 colored plates of glass which bear the stamp of the Europe architecture style in medieval period. Every year, in Christmas day, people visit this church to experience the sacred atmosphere and also to go for sightseeing. Besides, Dalat also comprises many smaller churches each of which has distinctive features.
DA LAT RAILWAY
For architectural enthusiasts, Da lat Railway Station is also well worth a visit. This was once the finest station in Indochina during 1930s and 1940s. About 105 kilometers of railways were built in early 20th century to connect Dalat and Cham Tower (Nha Trang). During the wars, the lines were ruined and get abandoned. In 1991, the station was restored and turned into a historical heritage site, catching the eyes of thousands of visitors every year. Its original French architecture has been well preserved and the old steam locomotive is still there.
Regarded as one of the finest piece of colonial engineering and architecture in Vietnam, the station was designed in Art Deco style which is perfectly in harmony with local characteristics and culture. Its three high pointed roofs resemble the three peaks of Lang Biang Mountain or as some people say, the communal house of ethnic minorities in Central Highland of Vietnam (called Nha Rong). Each roof contains multi-color glass window and the central roof has a huge clock which has been restored recently.
DOMAINE DE MARIE CHURCH
The Domaine de Marie Church, also called Mai Anh Church or Cherry Church, is home to the Roman Catholic nuns of the Mission of Charity. Actually, that’s why many people think that there’s a feminine charm attached to the architecture of the church. Located on a nice hill at 1 Ngo Quyen St., Ward 6, nearly 0.6 mile southwest away from the city center, it is a 29.6-acre architectural complex consisting of the main church and two convents.
It offers a scenic panoramic view of the city. It was built from 1930 to 1943 following the 17th century French style. Before 1975, this is the main abbey with more than 50 female nuns, most of which are Vietnamese who carry out social activities like opening orphanages and kindergarten. However, because its architecture is the harmonious combination of Western art and Vietnamese folk art, the church definitely stands out from other ones created at the same era.
KING BAO DAI’S PALACE
The old palace, also known as Palace III, belonged to King Bao Dai, the last emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945) in Vietnam’s feudal regime. It was built from 1933 to 1938 according to a design by a French architect and Vietnamese architect Huynh Tan Phat. The palace has been evaluated as one of the most beautiful architectural works in Da Lat with a hamorny between pine forests and parks, Thuong Uyen (royal garden), Ai An Forest and a small lake.
During his reign, King Bao Dai used the palace as holiday house during the summer. During his holidays in the palace, there were always a regiment of imperial guards, a train of cars called “Cong xa biet dien” and private airplanes to serve him and his family. In 1948, when the French persuaded Bao Dai to serve as “head of state” and then established “Hoang trieu Cuong tho”( Domaine de la Couronne in French) in 1950, Bao Dai’s Palace was renamed “Biet dien Quoc truong” (the palace of the head of state).
Elephant (Voi) Waterfall is located about 25 kilometers southwest of Da Lat City of Lam Dong Province in Nam Ban Townlet, Lam Ha District. This waterfall, also called Lieng Rowoa Waterfall, is considered as the most beautiful and majestic waterfall in the highlands province of Lam Dong. It is more than 30m high, about 15m wide with the water flows make an area be obscured by the very white spray.
It is unfortunate that if you visit Da Lat – Lam Dong you do not visit the secret and dreaming of Lieng Rowoa Waterfall (Voi Waterfall). The waterfall appears as many elephants are swimming together.
XUAN HUONG LAKE
Used to be the site in which many indigenous people of Langbian highland inhabited, this man-made lake is nowadays the most beautiful lake of Dalat, becoming a symbol whenever people mention Dalat city, Lam Dong province. Looking from above, Xuan Huong Lake is like a crescent moon which extends to approximately 1236 acres. The surface of Xuan Huong Lake is as smooth as a mirror reflecting the romantic scenery of Dalat with pine forests, meadows and gardens.
Nowadays, visitors can enjoy not only strolling along the lakeside but also resting under the conifers, pedal-boating on the lake while admiring the spectacular architecture of Thuy Ta pavilion. As a major attraction in Dalat, Xuan Huong Lake is a place for people from both inside and outside the city to meet, talk and fall in love.
ACTIVITIES IN DALAT
There are a number of excellent day- and half-day bike routes around Da Lat. Many head north to Lat Village, or south into the countryside, but it’s also possible to organize trips to further-flung locations such as Buon Ma Thuot, Nha Trang or even Hoi An.
The cable car ride from/to Truc Lam Monastery Complex is a popular way to see Dalat from above. Along the two and a half kilometre ride, you can enjoy the attractive scenery such as pine tree-covered hills, rivers, rice plantations and the sea. Truc Lam Monastery Complex is rather new and already famous for its beautiful pagoda. Avoid national and school holidays as well as weekends if you want to avoid the crowds. Truc Lam is a lovely place for picnicking.
Golf courses in Vietnam offer extra facilities such as bars, restaurants, and pro shops where rental clubs are available. Some courses offer also other recreational choices, with tennis courts, swimming pools and children’s playgrounds.
The eighteen-hole course just off central Da Lat boasts inspiring views from some tees. Starts at around $95 per person, including caddy. In general it is cheaper to play golf here in the afternoon from around 14:30 onward and weekdays are less busy and cheaper than weekends.
Leisurely nature walks along forest trails (or many more adventurer treks for the experience hikers) are another way to discover this area’s beauty. Dalat is full of many natural sights where interesting animals and birds can be found. Some treks may lead you to caves, waterfalls, lakes, volcanic peaks, minority villages, suspension bridges and farmlands too.
Lang Bian Mountain (about 12km north of downtown Dalat) is one of the most popular locations for a day or a half-day out hiking. It has five peaks that range from 2100m to 2400m in altitude. Other hot locations for hiking include Ba Be Lake National Park, Pongour Falls and the Lake of Sorrows
To go hiking in Dalat is quite easy and simple and you don’t really require a tour company; many people just rent a bike and use a local map and off they go. Warm clothing, a raincoat, sunblock lotion and mosquito repellent are usually needed.
Fans of adventure activities will love it here. Dalat and the nearby area is where visitors can enjoy great outdoor sports such as whitewater rafting, whitewater kayaking, rock climbing, paragliding and canyoning.
Another way to enjoy Dalat’s beautiful countryside is on horseback. Visitors can hire horses by the hour and for about twice the amount they can also take a horse-drawn carriage for a pleasure ride around Dalat Flower Garden and the Lake of Sorrow too.
If you travel as a family with young kids, don’t forget to rent a huge swan paddleboat and take a spin around Dalat lakes such as the manmade lake inside Valley of Love, the Lake of Sighs (Ho Than Tho) and another popular artificial lake, Xuan Huong Lake. It can be great fun for a few hours at least.
If you want a bit of thrill in Dalat and without having to work out too much, check out the toboggan ride at Datanla Waterfall. With more than 40 cars (each with two seats), the roller coaster features medium-sized rapids and you can slide down the 800m long track with speeds of up to 40kmh. The toboggans are user friendly design and according to the operator the safety system fully meets European standards.
ELEPHANT AND OSTRICHES RIDE
Prenn Waterfall is not just another pretty site to visit in Dalat. It offers many interesting activities including elephant and ostrich rides. The humble elephant will take you through unspoiled nature such as small creeks, lakes and green forests. For those who really want to try something different, here is your chance. Ostriches might not be a common transport option but here in Dalat you can ride on one. The idea of climbing up on an ostrich’s back can be quite a challenge but once you manage to get up there and start the ride it is one of the most interesting experiences as these well-trained animals are used to human and are amazingly friendly.
Both the Dalat Palace and Dalat Du Parc have tennis courts, available to guests for free, and non-guests for a small fee.
SHOPPING IN DA LAT
DALAT NIGHT MARKET
In the daytime, Da Lat charms visitors with its colorful flowers, green pine forests, beautiful lakes and fresh highlands air. Tourists often make side trips to outlying areas to see flower villages, mountains and magnificent waterfalls. When the sun sets, it’s time to relax and warm up with local food, perhaps the favorite attraction of this highlands city.
Many tourists agree that no tour of Da Lat is complete without exploring the local night market and its street food stalls. While tourists in Sai Gon and Hanoi usually go to a restaurant to sample the local cuisine, in Da Lat, it’s the open food stalls in the central market where visitors find something hot to eat to warm up while they observe the street activity.
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