DA LAT TRAVEL GUIDE
Dalat, also Da Lat, 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 what was then called Saigon (now) officially known as Ho Chi Minh City.
Dalat is a mid-sized city that looks like a cross between Vietnam and the French Alps. Outside of the city centre, it is surrounded by a series of pine-covered hills, lakes, 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 Celsius. Be aware that during summer months, rain comes at least once a day and can sometimes dictate the mood and activities you are planning.
The city centre is quite small and feels very urban, concrete, and patches of streets and buildings are in disrepair or construction. However, outside of the small urban centre is a spacious landscape of well kempt and pretty hotels, cafes, restaurants, and lakes peppered among the rolling green hills and pine trees to offer tourists an escape from city life. Even further out from those are fields of fruits, vegetables, coffee, and canopied flower gardens that are harvested and exported across Vietnam. The tempo of life in Dalat is very relaxed, traffic is not frenetic, streets are spacious, and the local populace is friendly to foreigners.
Dalat is very much a niche tourism town, open to those seeking a respite from the heat of the rest of Vietnam, a change in scenery to lush pine forests and rolling hills, or those 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, either on short package tours, soul searching, or drawn by the scenery, vivid blue skies, fresh air, flower-filled parks, and local culinary treats. Dalat is a favourite destination for company weekend outings, family get-aways, and honeymooners. Most guidebooks for overseas visitors describe Dalat as a tourist town with a colourful approach to tourism.
Dalat is a very pleasant stop, on a north-south tour (or vice versa), or a pleasant outing from the heat of Saigon. For overseas visitors, it offers mostly a chance to cool down, observe some beautiful landscape and agriculture, 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 (1500-2000m) and fertile landscape make it one of Vietnam's premier agricultural areas, producing varieties of fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee beans, and flowers that do not 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.
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.
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 Khu Hoa Binh street, just up from the market. The last bus each day is at 5PM.
There are many places around town to rent a bicycle, tandem or motorbike. 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.
Car rental prices (as mostly anything in Vietnam) usually increase during holiday seasons especially around Tet (Vietnamese’s New Year). Make sure to avoid high prices by booking it beforehand with the car rental services.
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.
· Ho Xuan Huong (Xuan Huong lake), center of town. Open daily, all hours. No admission fee but rental fees vary if you want to boat. Approximately 5km in diameter, 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.
· Da Lat market filled with local specialities: strawberry jam, fruits conserves, avocado, artichoke.
· Nha Tho Domaine de Marie:(on Ngo Quyen, 1 km from where Hai Thuong and Ba Trang Hai (3 Trang Hai) meets.) 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.
· Da Lat train station: take the steam train through the 7km historical line to Trai Mat, from there you can visit the Linh Phuong pagoda. Price for train ride is 124,000d return (January 2013, price for foreigners).
· Ho Suoi Vang (Golden Spring lake). Rather unspoiled scenery.
· Thien Vien Truc Lam Monastery, at the top of where the cable car drops you off (single 50,000 dong, return 70,000) The monastery (admission free, donations accepted) 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 (see below), visit nearby Datanla waterfall and take the bus back to town.
· Lang Biang mountain. The 2167m peak is reachable by a steep paved path, ideal for a 3 hours hike, or you can ride in a jeep for 50,000d to reach 1950m peak, Also visit the minorities village under the mountain foot.
· Thung Lung Tinh Yeu ,aka Valley of Love, Phu Duong Thien Vong str. Open daily until 5PM. Admission fee= 40.000 VND. About 5km outside of town, 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. See contact info below for canyoning operators.
· Lake of Sorrow or Lake of Sighs, 5km northeast of town on Ho Xuan Huong road. Open daily until 5PM. Admission fee= 20.000 VND.The Lake of Sorrow is another 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.
· Tuyen Lam Lake , 5km south of town on highway 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 80s. It is one of the largest and most beautiful lakes in town. The other side of the lake is the Voi mountain which is a good place for hiking.
· Prenn Falls, At the foot of Prenn Pass, about 10km outside of town. Open daily until 5PM. Admission fee= 30.000 VND 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.
· Pongour Falls, 30km south of town on highway 20, it's one of the largest and widest waterfalls in Vietnam and during the wet season is a magnificent sight. Although a dam built nearby has reduced the water flow recently.
· Elephant Falls, 30km west of town on the way to Daklak , it is so nice and full of water all year around, entrance fee : 20.000VND/per.
Most popular activities include: Canyoning, Mountain biking, White water rafting, Hiking, Rope course.
· Lak Lake is a nice stop on a bike-tour in the central Highlights. NHA TRANG and then Take the busy Road 27 to BUON MA THUOT. Its a beautiful ride down to the Elefant-Waterfall through 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.
· Langbiang Mountain Located 12 kilometers from Da Lat city centre, Langbiang, which has an elevation of 2,167 meters above sea level, is a well-known and charming destination.
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 necessities 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.