Dalat, also Da Lat (Đà Lạt), in the South Central Highlands of Vietnam, was originally the playground of the French who built villas in the clear mountain air to escape the heat and humidity of the coast and of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City.
Dalat looks somewhat like a cross between Vietnam and rural France. Many of its hotels and houses are built in a European/ French style. The city spreads across a series of pine-covered hills, with a small lake in the centre and surrounded by a man-made lake and higher peaks, making for some lovely scenery quite different from the rest of Vietnam. Temperatures are pleasantly warm by day, and cool at night, down to perhaps 10 degrees Celsius.
Dalat is surrounded by some of the best mountain biking, hiking and canyoning opportunities in Vietnam, with hills of coffee and tea plantations, which evoke images of the colonial hill stations of the north of India.
Dalat's high altitude (1,500–2,000 m) and fertile landscape make it one of Vietnam's premier agricultural areas, producing varieties of fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee, and flowers that don't grow in the lowlands. In markets as far north as Hanoi and Haiphong, vegetable and flower vendors will tout their "grown in Dalat" produce.
Dalat is a favorite destination for company-sponsored weekend outings, family getaways, and honeymooners.
Most local and foreign travellers arrive in Dalat by bus, including those travelling on the famous Sinh Cafe Hanoi-HCMC open-tour buses. Mai Linh Express and Phuong Trang run several daily services to Dalat from Nha Trang and HCMC. From Nha Trang, the bus ride is about 5 hours, with the obligatory stop at a dilapidated Cham temple/tourist site. Within the last year or so, a new road from Nha Trang has cut the travel time to 3–4 hours, including a 30-minute breakfast/WC stop about one hour out of Nha Trang. From Ho Chi Minh City, the bus ride is about 7 hours (9 hours if there is bad traffic leaving Saigon). If coming from Mui Ne, be careful as the road is rough most of the way, so try to book a large bus or at least a seat towards the front.
For Western visitors it may be best to book a ticket on a bus without a television. The entertainment offered could be loud and unappealing if you prefer sleeping before arriving at their next destination.
There are many travel agencies in town that can book buses to all parts of the country.
The airport is a 30 km south of the city linked by a modern, yet scenic, two lane highway and offers daily Vietnam Airlines flghts to and from HCMC, Da Nang, and Hanoi.
Some hotels offer special arrangements with taxi companies to ferry hotel guests to and from the airport for around 200,000 dong.
Depending on where you stay, you can walk to most parts around town. You can catch a xe om (motorbike taxi) from most corners, so if you're going somewhere farther out of town, you have a fast way to get there. Taxis are also abundant and reasonable in price, yet watch the meter, as meter fixing is a common practice from north to south.
There is a local bus which passes near most of the main tourist sites. Heading south you can catch it at the bus shelter by the lake. Otherwise, the bus hub can be found on Hoa Binh Square (Khu Hoa Binh - behind Hoa Binh theater), just up from the market. The last bus each day is at 17:30.
There are many places around town to rent a bicycle, tandem, or motorbike. Please consider carefully before you rent a motorbike, as according to the Vietnamese law you must be in the possession of a valid Vietnamese driver's license to be able to drive a motor vehicle in the country. Failure to have one cancels any insurance that the bike might come with and makes you liable for any damages. In Southeast Asia, you are always liable, as you are always guilty, as you are presumed to have more money than the other party. Hence you will have to pay for damages to the bike and its full value, damages to other people and their property, as well as ruining your vacation.
Packaged day tours are easily purchased round town, which will take you to a variety of sites, it is recommended to use one of the three licensed operators, as they are registered with the tourism department, offer insurance coverage and in the event of any disputes, or grievances have to respond to the claims against them. Fair pricing policies apply to them, which might not be the case with some of more dodgy companies. ask to see the government license and get a receipt with a red invoice when contracting any services.
The tourist agency, "Trung Tam Dich Vu Lu Hanh Da Lat," located on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, is not recommended due to their unethical practice of duping tourists by reserving tickets for Sinh Cafe Open Tour bus for USD12 (240,000 dong), then contacting the tourist's hotel to change the ticket for a later Phuong Trang bus, for 120,000 dong. The tickets will have extra zeros whited-out to make it look like USD12.
Tours typically include a handful of stops like the following: colonial palaces, Crazy House, flower garden, hilltop pagoda and Langbiang Mountain.
- Colonial Palaces. The three palaces and summer home of the colonial era, last emperor of Vietnam Bao Dai, which is of great interest once you visit these three heritage sites, named Palace I, II and III, the Dalat Palace Hotel being one of them, with its adjacent Dalat Du Park Hotel, all from the 1920s, together with the Dalat Palace Golf Club, which was built in 1922, to give his majesty the opportunity to practice his golf skills picked up during his years of study in France. The golf course is an awesome site, whether you enjoy the swinging and putting or not, as the coffee shop at the golf course has some wholesome meals of Asian and European food, with great view of the deep green fairways and classy environment. The Palace I is located on the same street when you walk to the Crazy House. It is about a 15-30 minute walk depending on your pace (1.1 km. from Tran Phu, 47 m elevation gain). Palace II is located on Tran Hung Dao, not far from the Xuan Huong Lake (next to Yersin Park).
- Crazy House, Huỳnh Thúc Kháng, Phường 4 (About 0.3 km off Duy Tan St). A striking, not-quite-finished fantasy house designed by the daughter of an independence war hero. Well worth a visit, even if you are not too interested in architecture. 40,000 dong.
- Dalat Market. Filled with local specialities: strawberry jam, fruit conserves, avocado, artichokes.
- Dalat Train Station. Take the steam train through the 7 km historical line to Trai Mat district. From there you can visit the Linh Phuoc pagoda. 128,000 dong.
- Flower Garden (At the northwestern end of Xuan Huong Lake). A set of flower gardens centred around a reconstructed traditional Vietnamese teak wood house. If you go for a stroll around the lake, it can be visited as a stop. 20,000 dong.
- Golden Spring Lake (Ho Suoi Vang). Unspoiled scenery.
- Truc Lam Zen Monastery. Best to reach it via a cable car ride over the pine forest.
- Lake of Sorrow (Lake of Sighs) (5 km northeast of town on Ho Xuan Huong Rd). The Lake of Sorrow is a common destination in Dalat. The Lake of Sorrow is so-named because of a tale of two lovers, one who committed suicide after the other was called up to serve in the army.
- Langbiang Mountain. The 1,900 m peak is reachable by a steep paved path, ideal for a 3 hour hike, or you can ride in a Jeep for 40,000 dong. Also visit the ethnic village at the foot of the mountain.
- Linh Phuoc Pagoda, Trai Mat, Da Lat (About 8 km from town). This kitschy temple is one of a kind in Vietnam. Broken porcelain is used to compose beautiful mosaics that adorn the whole of this 7-level pagoda, and it is still expanding. free.
- Nha Tho Domaine de Marie, Ngo Quyen (1 km from where Hai Thuong and Ba Trang Hai (3 Trang Hai) meet). A pink church on top of a hill, with a store selling various dried fruits and snacks from the local orchards run by the nuns of the monastery.
- Pongour Falls (30 km south of town on Hwy 20). It's one of the largest and widest waterfalls in Vietnam and during the wet season is a magnificent sight. A dam built nearby has reduced the water flow recently.
- Prenn Falls (At the foot of Prenn Pass, about 10 km outside of town). Daily until 17:00. A very common stop on a typical Dalat tour, Prenn Falls is quite beautiful, but is a lot more fun when you're hiking it than just taking pictures of it.
- Thien Vien Truc Lam Monastery (At the top of where the cable car drops you off). The monastery has a magnificent view over the dams below and its gardens are full of landscaped shrubs in animal form. Extremely peaceful. A great place to relax and soak in the tranquility. People who do not want to complete the round trip could opt for a 4.1 km walk back to Tran Phu. Be sure to bring a map. On the walk back you can go down to Tuyen Lam Lake, visit nearby Dalanta waterfall, and take the bus back to town. Free admission. The cable car to the monastery costs 50,000 dong one-way, return 70,000 dong..
- Tuyen Lam Lake (Hồ Tuyền Lâm) (5 km south of town on Hwy 20). Its clean green waters flow from the beautiful Tia Spring and from the Da Tam River, which flows down from Voi mountain. Its waters stretch over an immense 350 hectares and because of its various sources, Tuyen Lam is known as the lake where rivers, springs, and forests meet. The lake was built in the 1980s. It is one of the largest and most beautiful lakes in town. The other side of the lake is Voi Mountain which is a good place for hiking.
- Valley of Love (Thung Lũng Tình Yêu), Phu Dong Thien Vuong St (About 5 km out of town). Daily until 17:00. The Valley of Love is common stop on Dalat tours and is very popular with honeymooners. The Valley of Love is also a great spot for canyoning. USD1.
- Xuan Huong Lake (Hồ Xuân Hương) (centre of town). Public lake in the centre. Approximately 5 km in length, this lake was made after two dams on the Camly River were destroyed during a storm in the 1930s. Now, Xuan Huong Lake is one of the main draws of Da Lat, and you can see honeymooners and locals strolling its banks. Many nice hotels have a view of the lake. The lake was drained in 2010, but is now filled again. Boats can be rented on both sides of the lake. The lake was recently adorned with a blindingly bright advertising sign, aimed directly at the lakeside hotels and coffee shops.
- Lak Lake. Stop on a bike-tour in the central highlands. It's a beautiful ride down to the elephant waterfall through coffee plantations and then up to Lak Lake over a mountain and then through sunny highlands with rice fields. The road is partly very bad, but doable.
- University of Dalat, 1 Phu Dong Thien Vuong St. Students from the Hand-in-Hand Club are eager to serve as free guides.
- Dalat Easy Rider Club, 66 Truong Cong Dinh St, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The guys with the blue/white uniforms.
- Dalat Trip Ltd, 27 Truong Cong Dinh, ☎ , fax: +84 63 3555769, e-mail: email@example.com. Elephant rides.
- Easy Riders, 1 Nguyen Khuyen, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. It's a great and inexpensive way for non-motorcyclists to tour the Central Highlands, giving you access to places you would otherwise never know about. They speak English quite well, and are from the local villages, and know everyone and everything in and around the place. This is the original Easy Rider cited by several guide books, operating since 1992. There are a bunch of companies which jumped on the idea and all call themself Easy Riders, so it's quite confusing. The concept is everywhere the same, price and quality may differ.
- Green Adventour, 71 Truong Cong Dinh, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Canyoning & rock climbing.
- Phat Tire Ventures, 109 Nguyen Van Troi, ☎ +84 6 382 9422 or +84 9 1843 8781, fax: +84 6 382 0331, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Offers climbing, hiking and biking tours through the highlands, coffee farms, bamboo forests. Tours to hill tribes available.
Most visitors to Dalat are Vietnamese, and most of them leave loaded with stuff. What they like to take home is dried and candied fruits, strawberry preserves, coffee, green and artichoke tea, local wine, dried venison, orchids, strawberries, avocados, and other fresh produce. If you take any sort of organized tour, chances are you will be off-loaded for a half hour at a shop selling these items. Local treats are also for sale in abundance in the large central market located in the area around Nguyen Thi Minh Khai and Le Dai Hanh. Partly covered and partly outdoors, the market has dozens of small stalls selling fruits and vegetables, clothing, and a variety of other goods. There is a supermarket on the top floor selling necessities for travellers. Strolling around the market is a favourite evening activity, and every night it buzzes with thousands of visitors.
Dalat does not offer lot of high-end handicrafts of the sort favoured by overseas tourists. Dalat is famous, however, for its beautifully crafted silk embroidered pictures, which can be purchased at a massive mark up from the many galleries around Dalat or at a fraction of the price from the central Dalat market.
Dalat also has an abundance of fruit, vegetables, and flowers available for purchase if you plan to stay for a few days and want to liven up your hotel room or cook your own meals.
- Art Cafe, 76 Truong Cong Dinh St (On the main street), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Vietnamese and international dishes prepared with local ingredients. Features local artistic events such as live music acts, group painting sessions and movie nights.
- Âu Lạc, Bui Thi Xuan St. Good vegetarian food.
- Backpackers Tourist Cafe, 61-3 Thang 2 St, F1, ☎ . Good food and cheap prices with nice decor. Staff speaks good English.
- Cafe de la Poste, 12 Tran Phu St, ☎ . 06:00-23:00. Part of the Dalat Du Parc and Dalat Palace Compound. French and Western country-style cuisine, large wine list. English speaking friendly staff, great service.
- Dalat (Central) Market (Chợ Đà Lạt) (Town centre). Open daily until early evening. Dalat's Central Market place is the best place in town to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Near the entrance, there is a lively and always busy vegetable restaurant that serves excellent soups. A tiny vegetarian food stall is in a corner of the second level.
- Dã Quỳ (Wild Sunflower Restaurant), 49 Truong Cong Dinh. French and Vietnamese food.
- Dalat Palace Golf Club, 1 Phu Dong Thien Vuong St, ☎ . 06:00-20:00. Cafe, pro shop and clubhouse, offering Mexican and Western food.
- Nam Giao Cafe, 4C Chu Van An St, ☎ . 07:00-22:00. Vietnamese kitchen serving traditional noodle breakfasts. 12,000-45,000 dong.
- Nhat Lien, 17 Huynh Thuc Khang, P4, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Until 21:00. One of three vegetarian restaurants in Dalat. Primarily Vietnamese food, but also some English dishes. The staff does not speak much English, but the owner does and he is happy to help you out. Sometimes live music.
- Peace Café (Next to Peace Hotel 1). Offers some of the cheapest food in Dalat.
- Le Rabelais, 12 Tran Phu St (In Dalat Palace Hotel), ☎ . Recipient of numerous international prizes and accolades. Elegant and distinctly old fashioned with its 1920s atmosphere, food, and service.
- V Cafe, 1/1 Bui Thi Xuan, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 07:00-22:30. Popular place for Western travellers. Diverse menu of international dishes and live music every evening.
- Việt Mỹ CaFé, 9A Le Dai Hanh. Local and Western food. Small, neat atmosphere, overlooking the city gardens.
- Cafe Noi, 74 Phan Dinh Phung St (Near intersection Truong Cong Dinh). Lovely cafe with relaxed music and great coffee with chocolate flavour. Lots of young locals playing cards and board games here. Not yet spoiled by masses of tourists.
- Cafe Tung'. Really nice cafe. The delicious Vietnamese coffee costs 8,000 dong and is served with tea.
- Hangout Bar, 71 Truong Cong Dinh St (Opposite Peace Hotel). Open after midnight. Classic backpacker bar. Free pool table, board games, and darts. Guests can choose their music. Good place to meet other travellers and expats.
- Larry's Bar, 12 Tran Phu (Basement of the Dalat Palace Hotel). Happy hour, 17:00-19:00. Library-style decorations with dark wood paneling, pool table, and darts.
- Saigon Nite, 11 Hai Bà Trưng. Open until after midnight. Cheap beer, pool, and friendly staff. Lots of tourists and expats.
- Bon Mua Guesthouse, 1B1 Bui Thi Xuan St (Between intersection with Phan Boi Chau and Hotel Dai Loi), ☎ . Clean, basic guesthouse. USD5+.
- Dreams Hotel, 151 Phan Dinh Phung St, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Clean rooms, friendly staff and big breakfast. They also have sauna, steam, and hot tub free of charge for guests (16:00-19:00).
- Hang Nga Guest House, Bui Thi Xuan St (opposite Trung Cang Hotel), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Friendly staff, clean rooms, good English spoken. USD7+.
- Hoa Binh 1 Hotel (Peace Hotel 1), ☎ . It is anything but peaceful, and fills to capacity on weekends, but staff are friendly. There is a cafe next door. USD10-15.
- Mai Tam Guesthouse, 2B Le Thanh Ton St, ☎ . Clean family-run guesthouse a little outside city centre in a Vietnamese residential area (about 1.5 km, 20 min walk). The family rents out scooters for USD5/day. They also have a convenience shop downstairs. 150,000 dong.
- Nam Ky Hotel, 11 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, ☎ +84 6 3382 4493 or +84 9 1378 9449. Nice view from the rooms.
- Newland Hostel, 9A Hai Ba Trung St, ☎ , e-mail: www.http://firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff are really friendly and English speaking. Hot shower, balcony, nice design, free Wi-Fi and parking lot. They also offer a wide slate of tours. USD4-6, breakfast included.
- Ngoc My Hotel, 01 Le Thi Hong Gam St. Nice location with Xuan Huong Lake view and clean rooms, balconies facing the lake. USD25+.
- Peace Hotel. Free Wi-Fi, breakfast extra for USD1. USD7+.
- Sakura Hotel, Bui Thi Xuan St. Cheap hotel near the student centre.
- Les Sapins 60 Hotel, 60 Truong Cong Dinh St (Next door to Peace Cafe), ☎ . Recently renovated, clean rooms, free Wi-Fi and Internet in the lobby, breakfast for USD1 available. USD10-20.
- Thanh Huong Hotel, 02 Bui Thi Xuan St, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Includes cable TV, Wi-Fi and fridge. Some rooms have balconies.
- Van Anh Hotel, Bui Thi Xuan St. The staff speak good English, rooms are clean with cable TV, free Wi-Fi. Very motorcycle-friendly. USD10+.
- Ana Mandara Villas, Le Lai St. 65 rooms within 17 refurbished French colonial villas. A bit far from the city centre and only recommended to those who like to walk, what with large distances between the accommodations and the other services of the resort. Charming and for the adventurous. Must like sharing living rooms and other services, as each villa houses several rooms, hence the sharing issue.
- Dalat Du Parc Heritage Boutique Hotel. Hotel built in 1922, part of the original Dalat Palace compound, with 143 rooms and one ambassador suite. Style and glory of yesteryear, a very old fashioned lift and great views from the rooms at the back of the hotel.
- Dalat Edensee Lake Resort & Spa, Tuyen Lam Lake - Zone VII.2, ☎ . Mountain and garden view, Eden suite, all equipped with 32-inch LCD TV, king bed and minibar. Free Wi-Fi. Nam Xuan, Eden Lake Café, and Riesling restaurants within the compound. USD139+.
- The Dalat Palace Heritage, 12 Tran Phu St. 43 luxury rooms and suites, one presidential suite. Built in the art deco-style of the 1920s with imperial dining rooms and facilities. It has beautiful gardens. It was conceived as the very centre of the city and dominates with great views onto the Xuan Huong Lake. It also has an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, and spa.
- Empress Hotel Dalat, 5 Nguyen Thai Hoc St.
- Hoang Anh Dalat Resort. The resort covers five hectares, is comprised of six villas with 75 rooms in total.
Buses leave regularly from the Phurong Trang (FuTa) Bus Terminal in the south of the city.