Dalat travel guide
This is one of the most beautiful, laid-back parts of Vietnam, but it wasn’t always that way. During the War this was one of the most heavily contested areas in the southern half of the country. This is the coffee, tea, and mulberry (silkworm food) growing area of Vietnam. Farms and cattle abound, amid villages of thatched and tile-roofed houses, lakes with floating villages, and fishermen who row their boats with their foot so they have both hands free for the nets.
Dalat is on the Cam Ly River at an elevation of 1,500 meters (a bit less than 5,000 feet). Surrounded by rolling hills and forests, the area is quite beautiful, and well suited to trekking, hiking, biking, or just walking.
It is also home to two very interesting sights – the oldest golf course in Vietnam, and the strangest hotel in Southeast Asia. The course is at the former RoyalPalace. Hang Nga’s Crazy House, 2 Huynh Thuc Khang, is a bizarre hotel. The building looks like it is made from tree trunks, the rooms are filled with huge animals and have an Alice-Through-The-Looking-Glass quality. There are tours of Dalat that include this place as a stop. If you stay here you have to vacate the premises during the day and take your valuables since there will be tour groups coming through.
If you need to retreat from the heat in the South, this is the place. In order to go trekking to the minority villages it is best to arrange a guide and let him handle the permissions and arrangements for you.
Getting There & Away
Dalat has an airport with connections to Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and the Danang area. There are also a few international connections, but few people enter Vietnam through Dalat.
From the airport you can take the Vietnam Airlines bus to their office in town for about $3. It’s 30 km/18 miles (allow 45 minutes) to town. A taxi will cost about $10 and a ride on the back of a motorbike about the same as the airline bus.
If you arrive by bus you will come to the bus station at the west end of XuanHuongLake. Buses come from all over Vietnam, but most travelers arrive from Nha Trang to the north or HCMC.
Unless you are in outstanding condition you will find biking around the city of Dalat a challenge. Better to get your cycling legs on a trip outside the urban area. That also means there won’t be any tri-wheeled vehicles or cyclos (bike-propelled carts). Your options really come down to three: your feet, taxis, or Honda Oms.
If you want to do a day-long tour of the area, visiting waterfalls, monasteries, silk farms, and ethnic villages, look for the group called the “Easy Riders.” Their bikes are larger and they speak decent English. You can also call them at tel. 063/822194, or seek them out at the Phu Hoa Hotel (if they don’t find you first). A day trip in a taxi is about $20-$25. You can rent bikes at the Sofitel, Novotel, Hoa Binh, and Duy Tan hotels (and through the travel agencies) for about $5-$10 per day. Check the equipment carefully and bring your own helmet.
Dalat is at the center of the Vietnamese silkworm-growing industry. It is also the center of a revived embroidery tradition that produces amazing works. Most of the Dalat tours include at least one embroidery center on the itinerary.
Tours & Travels
In order to go trekking you need official permission and the red tape can get messy. Better to go with one of the two specialist agencies (located almost across the street from one another):
Phat Tire Ventures, 73 Truong Cong Dinh, tel. 063/829422, www.phattireventures.com.
Hardy Da Lat, 66 Phan Dinh Phung, tel. 063/836840, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Figure $15-20 per person per day for trekking – that includes all activities, food, accommodations, and your guide. Bring your own sleeping bag if you plan to trek, or at least your own sleeping sheet if you plan to rent equipment. In addition to trekking, these agencies arrange mountain biking, sailing, canoeing, rock climbing, and canyoning trips. Bring your own helmet if you plan to climb or bike.
Da Lat Travel Service, 3 Thang 2, tel. 063/822125, can help with air and other arrangements.
What to See & Do in Dalat
The city curves around the western side of man-made Lake Xuan Huong. A walk around the lake is a pleasant excursion, and takes you to a botanical and rose garden that is beautiful when the flowers are in bloom.
Note: Dalat is a university town so expect to be approached by students wanting to practice their English or ask you to help them with a survey. Please try and help them out. Dalat is also a major honeymoon destination for Vietnamese couples.
Although the hill country was bombed with some regularity, Dalat itself was not hit. You can still see largely unscathed (but not well maintained) French Colonial buildings snuggled up to by ugly communist-built concrete block buildings.
Make sure you go to the Cho Da Lat market. It’s centrally located in a concrete multi-level building. You’ll get a real appreciation for the variety of food that is grown in the area. There are a few craft shops in the area.
The train station, Ga Da Lat (Gare Dalat), was built in the late 1930s and is typical of the period. Trains run on-demand to the nearby village of Trai Mat where you can see the Linh Phuoc Pagoda, right, and enjoy the pastoral scenes on the short trip.
There are several nearby pagodas that are worth a visit, and this is where your guided taxi or Honda Om trip really pays off. You can visit the Linh Phong Pagoda and the Thien Vuong Pagoda (with its wooden pillars and huge Buddha statue).
Another stop on your tour could be one or two of Emperor Bao Dai’s palaces. Dinh I and III are the most interesting, giving glimpses into the royal Vietnamese lifestyle in the first half of the 20th century. Dinh I was the more day-to-day palace, and Dinh III was the summer palace. The gardens at Dinh III are lovely. Another palace to visit on your tour is Dinh II.
To the west of Dinh II are two enduring monuments to the French Colonial era – the Palace Hotel (at the Sofitel) and the Cathedral. Both are worth a look around. Many tours stop at Hang Nga’s Crazy House – it is certainly worth a quick tour.
Day-Trips from DalatThe waterfalls are south of Dalat and are certainly worth a trip. The two main ones are Datanla Falls and Prenn Waterfall. The $10-$20 Honda Om/Taxi tours will include these sights. The Prenn Waterfall is by far the more impressive, but the steep hike up to the Datanla Falls is exhilarating and the surrounding forest is impressive.
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