Visit Da Lat and get more than you bargained for

Locations – May 27, 2022 | 8:00 PM PT


A summer hideout for French colonialists, a cool climate, mysterious landscapes, a crazy house and a hellish market are part of what makes Da Lat a special travel proposition.

People on National Road 20 near Da Loc Church in Xuan Tho Township, Da Lat in the early morning. Photo by Nguyen Ngoc Ga

WHAT TO EXPLORE

Among the many “titles” Da Lat has achieved over the years is “Little Paris”, given the strong French influence of not so long ago.

There are around 1,500 old villas that the French built over a century ago to escape to when the summer got very hot elsewhere.

So it’s not a bad idea to have the french village on Le Lai Street will be the first stop on a Central Highlands city tour.

French-built villas surrounded by green pine forests in a village in Da Lat. Photo by Tam Linh

Spreading over 17 hectares on a hill of pine trees northwest of downtown Da Lat, the village was once named after Jean Oneil, a colonel in the French army in Indochina.

After retiring in 1920, Jean decided to choose the Cam Ly region north of Da Lat to build his plantation and a dam to supply water to his residence. He invited French architects to design the whole place.

Initially, 15 villas were built and two more were added later.

Each villa has three to seven guest bedrooms, all preserved almost in their original state today, from the floors and the fireplace to the electrical outlets. Tourists can book a day trip to visit the old villas in the village.

For 170,000 VND ($7.33) per person, you can enjoy European-style tea with cakes and fruits after visiting the villas. A 320,000 VND tour package will include an Asian-style lunch.

Hang Nga guest housealso called “Crazy House” has become a popular tourist attraction that Lonely Planet has listed as one of the 120 most breathtaking man-made structures on the planet.

Hang Nga Guesthouse in Da Lat. Photo by Shutterstock/Jimmy Tran

Located about a kilometer from Da Lat, the guesthouse opened in 1990 and has been compared to the stunning architecture of world-famous constructions such as the Salvador Dalí Museum and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Once forgotten, it now attracts hordes of tourists who pay 60,000 VND ($2.25) for a ticket to enter the place and satisfy their curiosity.

Australian citizen Stephen who visited Da Lat earlier this month said the building reminded him of something from the Lord of the Rings or Hobbit movies.

“It’s amazing to explore the building. If you had kids, they wouldn’t leave this place for hours. The architecture and design is amazing,” he said.

Another highlight of French heritage is the Dalat Railway Station built by French architects in 1932. When it opened in 1938, the station was part of the Thap Cham – Da Lat railway line, running from the ancient coastal kingdom of Champa to Ninh Thuan in Da Lat.

Tourists take photos by a steam train in Da Lat. Photo by Giang Huy

It has been crowned the oldest and most beautiful railway station in Indochina with a touch of French architecture. But after French troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1954, people stopped using the trains and the tracks were dismantled by people looking to sell scrap metal.

A section of the track, seven kilometers long, has been resurfaced and steam trains now run from Da Lat to Trai Mat, taking visitors to Linh Phuoc Pagoda.

Da Lat train station with yellow facade is seen from above. Pictures of Giang Huy

The Linh Phuoc Pagodalocated about seven kilometers west of the station, piques the curiosity of visitors, especially foreigners, with its colorful appearance made up of tens of thousands of porcelain pieces.

Linh Phuoc Pagoda in Da Lat. Photo of Tuan Dao

Although the materials used are scrap metal, the craftsmanship on display is impressive.

“An amazing pagoda! Definitely worth a visit! Beautiful, detailed designs and intricate tiled walls, ceilings and floors,” Lily from the UK wrote on Tripadvisor.

Just 30 minutes drive from the pagoda is the Cau Dat Tea Plantationcreated in 1927 by the French.

Women pick tea leaves at the Cau Dat plantation in Da Lat. Photo by Shutterstock/Andy Tran

You can rent a car to visit the tea plantation for 80,000 to 100,000 VND per day.

In Cau Dat stands a factory that has been making tea for almost 100 years. It is considered the oldest tea factory in Southeast Asia still in operation. The machines used were imported directly from Europe.

Langbiang Mountain at 2,169m above sea level is considered the roof of Da Lat. It is famous for the spectacular views it offers over the whole city.

An aerial view of Langbiang Mountain, considered the roof of the Da Lat Plateau. Photo by Andy Nguyen

It is also home to some of the oldest ethnic minority groups in the Central Highlands. Visiting a local village is an opportunity to experience firsthand a culture and way of life that has not changed for generations.

A trek through peaceful pine forests to the top of Langbiang takes about three to four hours. It is cooler as you go up and the vegetation becomes dense. Those short on time or unable to walk for other reasons can take a jeep tour for 100,000 VND to 120,000 VND for a group of four. A one-way trip takes 15 minutes.

At the foot of the mountain, having a family meal with the Lach ethnic minority community, one of the original inhabitants of Da Lat, is a highly recommended experience.

Visitors will be entitled to you cana local wine kept in a large jar and drunk with long bamboo straws, not to mention the pleasure of joining gong dances with the villagers around the campfires.

Back in Da Lat, a walk around the night market, also known as “Hell Market”, is a pleasant experience. The market is said to take its name from the past when there were no electric lights and vendors used oil lamps.

Hoa Binh Street leading to Da Lat Night Market is teeming with visitors during the Hung Kings holiday in April 2022. Photo by Pham Anh Tai

Today it is a favorite place to shop for clothes and sample local delicacies such as fresh, hot soy milk and artichoke tea, sweet tofu cream with ginger sauce, scallops grilled meat, chicken porridge, steamed corn and banh trang nuong (grilled rice paper).

WHERE TO STAY

Hotels near the city center and Da Lat night market, which makes transportation easy, can be booked for 150,000 VND to 250,000 VND per night.

Homestays are also worth considering. Jang & Min’s House, The Barn Home Farm, Moonrise Garden Dalat and Dalat Lacasa Homestay II are places with good reviews. Prices range from 70,000 VND to 300,000 VND ($3-12.85) per night.

To stay in the French-built villas, Sam Tuyen Lam Resort, Ana Mandara Dalat and Binh An Village Resort are options where prices start at 2.5 million VND per night.

It is said that no one should leave Da Lat without tasting banh can, a mini pancake made with rice flour. Located at the end of the steep slope of Tang Bat Ho, a place has been serving the treat with two options – quail egg and duck egg – for more than 15 years.

Banh can is served at Le’s Restaurant on Yersin Street in Da Lat. Photo of Ninh Eating

Banh mi xiu maiPork meatballs in hot sauce with crusty bread, is ideal for breakfast or lunch.

Although there are many places that offer this dish, Vi Nguyen, born and raised in Da Lat, prefers a small food stall on Hoang Dieu Street.

Banh mi xiu mai here is served in seconds by a lovely local lady, the sauce is very greasy and tasty. She also sells Vietnamese bread (banh mi) which many locals pick up every day before work. The food stand only opens until noon.

You can find the restaurant, Banh mi 79, on the sidewalk every morning from 6:30 am. banh mi xiu mai costs 15,000 VND ($0.65).

In the foggy landscape and cold weather of the city, a fish pot at a restaurant in Nguyen Chi Thanh Street is also highly recommended. The place is always crowded at night.

The restaurant owner said the soup consisted of freshly cut fish cooked with Vietnamese vegetables in a large pot with some fermented wine. The soup is served with rice cooked in a clay pot.

Apart from this special portion, you can order other Vietnamese dishes for 50,000 VND to 350,000 VND ($2-15). The restaurant is open all day.

Another dish to savor in Da Lat is the grilled pork roll, which is made by folding ground pork around a section of bamboo. After being grilled, it is rolled in rice paper with pickles and herbs. Again, the most essential thing for this is the dip, a special mixture made from pork liver, shrimp, pork, and ground bean paste.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Located 1,500 meters above sea level, Da Lat is famous for its year-round cool climate and can be visited at any time of the year.

Between November and May is the dry season when there is less rain, allowing visitors to enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking.

The ideal time to go “cloud hunting” is between April and June. This is the time when thick clouds and fog shroud mountain peaks and valleys.

HOW TO GET HERE

From Hanoi and Saigon, the best way to reach Da Lat is by plane.

Vietnam Airlines and Vietjet Air have direct flights to Da Lat every day. Round-trip tickets cost around 1.1 million VND ($47) from HCMC and 2.4 million VND ($103) from Hanoi.

Lien Khuong International Airport is about 40 kilometers from the city. A shuttle or taxi takes visitors from the airport to the city.

A sleeper coach from HCMC that takes about eight hours to reach Da Lat costs 220,000 VND ($9.42) per person.

Tuy Son Hill in Da Lat receives the first rays of sunshine. Photo by Tran Quang Anh