Da Lat (or Dalat) has a unique flavor among Vietnamese towns. Dalat’s history, combined with the welcome temperate mountain climate and pastoral hillside setting, gives it the feel of a European alpine resort which, in fact, it once was.
Dalat was founded in 1897, thanks to the Swiss-born French physician Dr Alexandre Yersin, who promoted the town’s charms and recommended the mountain air for French commanders weary of the Vietnamese tropics. It still has hundreds of huge colonial mansions. Some are being restored by Vietnamese nouveau riche; others are empty and decaying.
Da Lat city has a total of 12 wards and 4 communes. The wards are numbered from 1 to 12. Four communes are Xuan Truong, Xuan Tho, Ta Nung, and Tram Hanh.
The city’s temperatures hover between 15°C to 25°C, offering a cool respite from the baking plains below and the Mekong delta to the south. It is for this and the beautiful greenery so reminiscent of Europe thet the city has become known as the “City of Eternal Spring”.
In and around town there are also numerous pagodas to see, in serene natural settings that lend an atmosphere far different from, for example, your typical bustling Saigon temple. Dalat is also a good place in which to glimpse the influence of the Catholic Vietnamese, represented by several churches and cathedrals. Farther out of town are postcard-perfect farmlands, valleys, and waterfalls. A few ethnic minorities, including the Lat and Koho, live in and around these hills, and you can visit their small villages.
Dalat is also the honeymoon capital of Vietnam , with thousands of couples traveling to city each year. This is not surprising as the entire area has a romantic flavour, especially the graceful architecture of the older hotels. Dalat”s other claim to fame is that the city was the site of Vietnam’s first golf course, built by emperor Bao Dai in the 1930s. Dalat Palace Golf Club has since been redesigned and restored, and features Asia ’s only bentgrass tees and fairways The course earns consistently high marks from golf magazines and expert reviewers, and is justifiably popular with tourists and Vietnam’s expatriate community.
Attractions and activities
Bao Dai Palace
Completed in 1938, this monument to bad taste provided Bao Dai, Vietnam ’s last emperor, with a place of rest and respite with his family. Think concrete and velvet furniture. There are 26 rooms to explore, including Bao Dai’s office and the bedrooms of the royal family. Deer horns from a poor animal the emperor bagged himself hang on the wall. The place has never been restored, and indeed looks veritably untouched since the emperor’s ousting, which makes it all the more interesting. You can stil see the grease stains on Bao Dai’s hammock pillow and the ancient steam bath in which he soaked. Don’t miss the etched glass map of Vietnam in the main dining room, given to Bao Dai by a group of students in 1952 . The explanations are in English, and most concern Bao Dai’s family. There is pathos in reading them and piecing together the mundane fate of the former royals: this prince has a “technical” job, that one is a manager for an insurance company.
Cho Da Lat or Da Lat Market
Huge, crowded, and stuffed with produce of all varieties, this is the top stroll-through destination in Dalat. You will be bewildered with a riot of multi-colored flowers as well as various kinds of fresh vegetable and mouth-watering fruits. Here’s where you can see all the local specialties and even have a try! Some of the vendors will be happy to give you a sample of some local wine or a few candied strawberries. Also, lacquer ware, back packs, and hill-tribe handicrafts are sold here. In the morning, you can see the minority peoples carrying their goods and trading with stall holders.
Dalat Railway Station (Cremaillaire Railway)
Built in 1932 and put into use in 1936, the Dalat station offers an atmospheric slice of Dalat’s colonial history. You can see an authentic old wood-burning steamer train on the tracks to the rear, and stroll around inside looking at the iron-grilled ticket windows. Although the steamer train no longer makes tourist runs, a newer Japanese diesel train makes a trip to Trai Mat town, and the Linh Phuoc pagoda.
Lake of Sighs (Ho Than Tho)
Five kilometers northeast of the city, the Lake offers the pleasant scenery and relaxing atmosphere. Legend has it that a 15-year-old girl named Thuy drowned herself after her boyfriend of the same age, Tam, fell in love with another. Tam was summoned to the Quang Trung war against the Chinese invasion. Thuy thought that without her, her sweetheart would go serving the nation without worries, so she drowned herself in the lake. Witness to this tragedy, the pine trees lining around the lake are said to have sighed in grief for her, hence its name. Today, the lake is teemed with tourist shops and boat rentals for riding in the lake.
Xuan Huong Lake
Once a trickle originating in the Lat village, Dalat’s centerpiece, Xuan Huong, was created when the Cam Ly River was dammed by the French in 1919. The project was finished in 1923, demolished by a storm in 1932, and reconstructed and rebuilt (with heavier stone) in 1935. Located at the center of Da Lat, It used to be part of a golf course built for Emperor Bao Dai. The Lake is surrounded by the pine forest and lush mountains, offering the stunning scenery. At the north end of the lake is Da Lat Flower Garden. Inside the garden, paths lead you past a great flower selection of hydrangeas, roses, orchids, poinsettia, and topiary, offering the colorful sights as well as invigorating atmosphere. Da Lat is famous for its flowers and many are exported overseas.
Truc Lam ( Bamboo Forest ) Zen Monastery
Don’t call this a pagoda. There’s a difference, one you can feel as soon as you ascend the hill. The complex was completed in 1994 with the aim of giving new life to the Truc Lam Yen Tu Zen sect, a uniquely Vietnamese form of Zen founded during the Tran dynasty (A.D.1225-1400). Adherents practice self-reliance and realization through meditation. The shrine, the main building, is notable mainly for its simple structure and peaceful air, and the quarters for nuns and monks nearby are closed to the public. However, the scenery around the monastery, with views of man-made Tuyen Lam Lake and surrounding mountains, is breathtaking. The grounds themselves are furnished with a small man-made pond and mimosa trees. As Zen master Thich Thanh Tu said, “Life is but a dream”
Nestling in the valley covered with densely lush vegetation and hugged by pine-forested hills, the Prenn Falls is a major tourist attraction in Vietnam . Go south of Da Lat, the Prenn Falls with its pure white waters tumbling down 10 meters from the cave into the pool below. From afar, its white water looks like a white curtain, painted with a flower garden and green draped hills at the foot of the falls, creating the awe-inspiring sight. You can enter the cave behind the curtain of water by a small bridge and feel the balmy spray there.
Here is the famous stopover on the way to Da Lat; the area is covered with the rich cultivated plains alternating with lush hills. The main cultivations here are coffee, tea, and the mulberry whose leaves silkworms feed on. Around the area of Bao Loc, are interesting attractions like Cat Tien National Park and Dambri Falls . The Cat Tien National Park covers a large area of tropical rainforest, a good habitat of various species of unique and rare birds, wild animals, and plants. Dambri Falls is a great place for relaxation, with its climate all year round and its picturesque surroundings.