Living in a tropical country calls for a lot of beach time. But for others who aren’t really fans of the ocean, one great escape is to be one with nature – with all the fresher air, lush trees, gardens, and fields, awe inspiring view of the mountains, and even some hidden falls waiting for you to jump in. Plus points if the weather makes you forget you are in a tropical country. This is exactly what Da Lat is. The capital of Lam Dong province found in the south central part of Vietnam is yet another worthy weekend or two destination. Developed by the French in the 1900s, this town is very much reminiscent of French architecture mixed with local charms.
How to get to Da Lat
Getting to Da Lat is quite easy – being a city that’s 4,900 ft above sea level, booking a flight via Vietnam Airlines or Vietjet is the fastest way to go. The flight lasts for about 50 minutes. This flight takes you to Lien Khuong Airport, and you would still need to cash out VND40,000 for the shuttle bus to take you to city center.
For a cheaper option, book a seat from the different bus companies found in Saigon. A ticket to the “City of Eternal Spring” starts from VND200,000. The ride takes up about 8 hours which includes meal stops. This is the most affordable and quite comfortable option as you only get on and off one mode of transportation; no need to transfer. Locating your hotel won’t be a problem as there are also free car or shuttle service from the Da Lat bus station to your hotel.
Getting there by train is also possible, although the ride would not drop you off at Lam Dong province. You can get on a train from the Saigon Railway Station to Thap Cham railway station in Ninh Thuan province, which would take about 9 hours. From there, take a free bus and travel by land for another 3 hours to get to Da Lat proper.
Where to stay in Da Lat
Accommodation won’t be a problem as there are plenty of hotels, hostels, or homestays to choose from. Just make sure to book ahead if you’re planning to visit on a holiday.
We stayed at Sen Vang Hotel along Phan Dinh Phung. This street is only a few minutes walk away from the market, which gives you a lot of quiet time for sleep and recharging. The path going to the hotel was filled with cafes, restaurants, and street vendors so food won’t be a problem. Since we visited in December, Da Lat was indeed colder; but the hotel still had air conditioners in each room just in case you aren’t bothered by the cold weather. The hotel had a simple facade, but the rooms had a lot of French-inspired decor.
Aside from the usual hotels, Da Lat is swamped with artsy and comfortable homestays. One standout homestay is The Shelter along Hẻm 36 Triệu Việt Vương. It is the actual translation of what glamping is – a made up room inside white tents overlooking fields and trees. This homestay is perfect for those looking for some R and R or those who want to escape the chaos in the city.
Quite popular among backpackers is the hostel Tay Backpackers found along Thủ Khoa Huân. This hostel offers affordable beds, rooms, and tour packages. The rooms are either shared with bunk beds or private ones for couples or families. They also have a common area where guests can mingle and dine like a family.
Eat and drink in Da Lat
Da Lat is in the South central part highlands, so growing plants and vegetables is made easy. Healthy options are a plenty; vegetables are served as either the main dish or a side dish. There are a lot of restaurants worth trying in Da Lat, but nothing beats the taste of home cooked goodness found on the streets or the night market.
Once here, make sure you get to try Banh Xeo. It is Vietnam’s answer to pancakes. It is savory and is usually filled with pork, shrimp, green onions, and bean sprouts. It’s a perfect snack to accompany you while walking around the Xuan Huong Lake. A good place to get your Banh Xeo fix is at Banh Xeo Chao Co Binh at 434 Phan Dinh Phung.
To warm you up from the chilly weather, order a bowl of Mi hoanh thanh for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This dish is best paired with bánh quẩy, which is fried breadsticks. We also got to try sua dau nanh (soybean milk). A glass filled with hot soybean milk is the perfect nightcap from all the exploring around the city. This drink is also paired best with pastries. It is found in almost every corner. There are stalls that provide the noted low tables and chairs; while for some, you’ll just be given a page from the newspaper for you to sit on, by the road.
What to do in Da Lat
The cool atmosphere of Da Lat calls for a more laid-back trip. Going around the streets and alleys early in the morning or in the middle of the day isn’t that much of a problem as you are always enveloped by the cool breeze. One must go-to place for us is Hằng Nga Guesthouse or also known as Crazy House. True to it’s name, this place has crazy architecture, which makes it worth visiting. It is a guesthouse and an architecture museum in one. This one of a kind architecture is from the brilliant mind of architect, Đặng Việt Nga. You can go through several rooms and go up staircases which will give you a nice view of the city or the mountains.
Meditate and be one with nature when you visit Truc Lam Temple. Reaching this Buddhist temple requires a cable car ride that lasts for about ten minutes or so. The cable car ride costs VND70,000, and gives you a picturesque view of Benhuit mountain. The temple gets filled with other tourists, but it was refreshing to see people respecting the sanctity of the place. Once hear, make sure that you aren’t too loud as this is a place of zen. Pictures are allowed and there is a restaurant and a cafe at the top for some quick snacks.
For the adventure seekers, Da Lat is surrounded by different wonders of nature that you can go hiking in the mountains, swimming or kayaking in lakes, rafting and jumping from waterfalls. These activities would require a whole day to be done, but the experience is surely memorable. Just make sure that you’d book a tour from licensed agencies with complete safety gears, well-trained guides, and a briefing on what abseiling is and how to do it properly.
Soak in the beauty of nature some more by going on a 4×4 ride up Langbiang Mountain. It is about 12 km away from the city center, but the drive is worth it. It gives you a panoramic view of Da Lat. Here, tourists spend a couple of hours having picnics, bird-watching, and picture taking. This place is perfect for nature-photography enthusiasts as well.
For those who are more interested in history, hire a taxi to take you to Bao Dai Palace. This was the home of Vietnam’s last emperor. Get to know King Bao Dai by going through this 2-storey mansion with 25 rooms filled with the king and his family’s memorabilia. Tourists can also have their photos taken wearing the royal Vietnamese traditional clothes.
The Da Lat Railway station and the Da Lat flower park are also frequented for a lot of photo opportunities. The main railway station building exudes French-colonial atmosphere as it was designed by French architects Moncet and Reveron. It still offers rides to Trai Mat – Linh Phuoc temple for some sightseeing. And a nice place to spend your afternoon is at the Da Lat Flower Park. You won’t notice the time passing by going around the seemingly never-ending fields of colorful flowers and other art installations. It is also a few walks away from the city-center lake, which makes it a perfect short side trip destination.