Dalat, also Da Lat (Đà Lạt), located 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 like a cross between Vietnam and the French Alps. 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 center 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 quite cool at night, down to perhaps 10 degrees Celcius.
Dalat is very much a niche tourism town, open to some of the more adventurous travelers, or the Indo chic romantics, seeking world class golf. There is a steady flow during some parts of the year of tourist from all walks of life and places, small hotels, cafe's lining its streets and plenty of small shops offering anything from orchids to knitwear. The vast majority of visitors are Vietnamese, although plenty of Americans and Europeans find their way, in their search for this utopian Dalat, a Life style resort destination, either on short package tours, or research and soul searching, drawn by the scenery, vivid blue skies, fresh air, flower-filled parks, and local culinary treats. Dalat is a favorite destination for company weekend outings, family get-aways, and honeymooners. Most guidebooks for overseas visitors describe Dalat as a tourist town with a colorful approach to tourism. Dalat is a very pleasant stop, on a north-south tour, or viceversa. or a pleasant outing from the heat of Saigon. For overseas visitors, it offers mostly a chance to cool down, observe the Vietnamese at play, view a bit of the French legacy, the Indochine legend and its momentous glories and the architecture untouched by the Vietnam conflict left behind,a unique place to enjoy the atmosphere of a unique country and its people.
Dalat is also 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 (1500-2000 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 Hai Phong, vegetable and flower vendors will tout their "made in Dalat" produce.
Most local and foreign travellers arrive in Dalat by bus, including those travelling on the famous Sinh Cafe Hanoi-HCMC open-tour bus. 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. From Ho Chi Minh City, the bus ride is about 7 hours (9 hours if there is bad traffic leaving Saigon).
It may be best to book a ticket on a bus without a television. The entertainment offered could be loud and unappealing to western passengers, who might rather prefer sleeping before arriving at their next destination.
There are various travel agencies in the town that can book buses to all parts of the country.
The airport, is a mere 30 km south of the city linked by a modern and yet scenic two lane highway and offers daily Vietnam Airlines/Air Mekong flights to and from HCMC, Danang and Hanoi. Dalat is being serviced by two airlines at this present time, being Vietnam Airlines and Air Mekong, a new private carrier with additional flights from and to Hanoi, Saigon and other destinations. Checking the timetables and prices being offered is well worth while since competition offers better rates with advanced bookings, Air Mekong like Vietnam Airlines is linked into overseas reservation and ticket issuing through the GDS and airline systems.
Some hotels offer special arrangements with taxi companies to ferry hotel-stayers to and fro the airport at around 200,000 VND.
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 the south. Please consider carefully before you move to rent a motorbike, as according to the Vietnamese law you must be in the possession of a valid Vietnamese drivers license, to be able to operate and drive a motor vehicle in the country, failure to have one, cancels any insurance that the bike might come with and makes you liable according to the law for any damages and remember in South East Asia, you are always liable, as you are always guilty, as you are presumed to have more money then 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 you might have just ruined your own vacation time, due to injury and of course hefty payments to third parties.
Alternatively, see the Do | "Easy Riders" section, below.
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 operator, 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 shady characters in the business, hence ask for the government registered license and receipt with a red invoice when contracting any services. (An indignity not uncommon in the developing world -- visitors from outside Vietnam are often required to pay double what Vietnamese pay for admission to many places when visiting individually, hence going through licensed operators will avoid some of those challenges.
The tourist agency, "Trung Tam Dich Vu Lu Hanh Da Lat," located on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, is not recommended due to their unethnical practice of duping tourists by reserving tickets for Sinh Cafe Open Tour bus for $12 (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 $12.
Tours typically include a handful of stops like the following:
Other sites of interest:
Easy Riders www.easyrider.vn , email: firstname.lastname@example.org (a motorbike and driver/guide) is a great way for a non-motorcyclist to tour the central highlands, providing access to places you would otherwise never know about. They speak good English, are from local villages, seemingly know everyone, and will probably find you before you find them. You will know the driver is legit when you are presented with a book, full of praise from other excited tourists. From about USD25/person for an 8 hour tour, up to USD65/day for long distance multi-day trips, often including accommodation.
"A witty crew of freelance motorbike guides who where truly born to be wild whom's popularity is reaching cult proportions among travelers seeking an alternative to being herded around on the usual open tour bus trail." (Lonely planet February 2003)
Lak Lake is a nice stop on a bike-tour in the central Highlights. Staying 1 Night in Dalat i got told, that i will miss the most scenic part of the trip when I go from Dalat to the (anyway so overdevelopped) NHA TRANG and then Take the busy Road 26 to BUON MA THUOT. And he was right, its a beautiful ride down to the Elefant-Waterfall throug Cafeplantations ect. and then up to Lak Lake over a mountain and then through sunny highlands with Rice-Fields. The Road is partly very bad though, but doable.
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. Part covered and part outdoor, the market has dozens of small stalls selling also fruits and vegetables, clothing, and a wide variety of other goods. There is a supermarket on the top floor selling neccessities for travellers. Strolling around the market is a favorite evening activity, and every night it buzzes with thousands of sweater-clad visitors.
Dalat does not offer lot of high-end handicrafts of the sort favored 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.
Dalat has countless restaurants to serve the diverse visitors, from all walks of life and origins, with offerings ranging from Local Lamdong province, Dalat food, to central and southern Vietnamese dishes and a fair number of Western and French inspired eateries, bars and restaurants, serving every budget and aspirations.
1/1 Bui Thi Xuan, Dalat, Tel (84) (63) 352 0215 Open daily from 7:00 to 22:30. V Cafe is the home of great food and live music in Da Lat. Boasting a unique and fun east meets west atmosphere, excellent service, a large and diverse menu of international dishes, and regularly hosting the best live music in town. There is something for everybody at V Cafe.
No.1 Phu Dong Thien Vuong Street, Dalat Tel: (+84 63) 3821 201 - Cafe, Pro Shop and Clubhouse, open daily from 6 a.m. until about 8PM. If you are craving Quesadillas, Tacos and haven't had Mexican, Western Food in the months, you will find what you're looking for at the Pro Shop. It's little bit out of the way, but in Dalat everything is round the corner anyways, but the food, the chips with salsa and guacamole, sandwiches and burgers, are excellent. And, the beer is always cold.
No. 12 Tran Phu Street, Tel. (063)825 777, part of the Dalat Du Parc and Dalat Palace compound, French and Western Country Style cuisine, at affordable prices, outstanding service and open from 6 a.m. till 11 p.m., wide selection of traditional dishes and fast food favorites, cold beer and a pretty impressive wine list, besides their famous fresh Dalat fruit juices. Service is great,served by English speaking friendly staff.
12, Tran Phu Street, one of the best fine dining experiences, besides fancy eateries in Hanoi or Saigon, receiving each year visitors just to experience a unique French ~ Vietnamese influenced fine dining experience, second to none. Recipient of numerous international prizes and accolades. Great service, elegant and distinctly old fashioned with class and style, if its unique 1920's atmosphere and cusine and refined service, this is the place in town for that fancy birthday, anniversary, or special moment in life.
No.12 Tran Phu Street, Dalat Palace Hotel, based in the belly of the colonial style hotel, its a bar established by the late American billionaire, philanthropist and controversial bon vivant Larry Hillblom, with a unique colonial - outback bar atmosphere, great music, ( live Friday and Saturday evening performances) and the best pizza to be found east of the Mekong river and beyond, reasonable prices and outstanding service by friendly staff, who have been there for years and know their punters by name and preferred drinks. One of the few waterholes in town to close past the midnight hours, kitchen service until closing moments.
No. 4C Chu Van An street, tel: 0633822875, 15' walking from Xuan Huong Lake, 10' walking from "Dinh Bao Dai" (Bao Dai's Summer Palace #2)), well known for "Bún Bò" and "Mì Quảng", the traditional noodle that Vietnamese often have for breakfast. Price: 12,000-45,000 VND. 7AM-10PM.
No.49 Truong Cong Dinh) offers very high-quality French & Vietnamese cuisine at reasonable prices by Western standards.
No. 9A Le Dai Hanh) offering both local and western food along with an excellent selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Small and neat atmosphere, overlooking the city gardens. Either eat alfresco, watching the hustle and bustle of DaLat's streets moving by, with some nice indoor dining. Owner speaks English.
English speaking staff and most knowledgeable since they have been there since Larry's days, open from 4 p.m. till past midnight with food order until the last moment. Favorite with locals and expats, living history and counting,
Accommodation in Dalat is very reasonable in the 'off-season', for as little as US$4 per night for a perfectly presentable hotel room with double bed and ensuite. In high season prices rise and advance booking is a good idea - particularly during weekends most hotels in the centre are fully booked. Beware of the Pink House as many guests have reported theft by staff from their rooms.
Tourist and FIT Hotels
12, Tran Phu Street the only 5-star hotel in Dalat, with 43 luxury rooms and suites, one presidential suite, built in the Art Deco style of the 1920's French architecture and refurbished during later stages in a Victorian Art Deco style, with imperial dining rooms and facilities. It has beautiful gardens, it was conceived as the very center of the city and dominates with great views onto the Xuan Huong lake. It also has an 18-hole championship golf course,tennis courts, spa, a unique site and among the most beautiful in Vietnam. It has been home away from home to the famous and scandalous from all over the globe for the past many decades, with historical figures and moments in time, so special and unique that it has inspired many books and novels. www.dalatpalace.vn
Safe bus (45 seats with A/C) always be ready each 30' to go to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city), it takes about 180.000 VND/ticket, ~7hrs/trip (~5-6 hrs at night). Contact dalat.thesinhtourist office, 4Bui thi Xuan St.
To Nha Trang, it costs also 120.000 VND/ticket, ca. 5 hrs/trip.