Dalat, a health resort and a colonial heritage in the tropics

Dalat, a health resort and a colonial heritage in the tropics

Known as “the city of eternal spring” because of its pleasant weather and its appreciable flowers all year round, Dalat (or Da Lat) undoubtedly forms with its region a “must see” of Vietnam. This southern health resort has a charm that is as indefinable as it is distinctive, which will immediately seduce you. Its lush vegetation, as well as the colonial and European style architecture of many of its buildings, will indeed enchant you. Discover with us the best activities to do, following relevant advice to make the most of your next stay in the “city of a thousand flowers”.

Updated on 27-11-2023
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What do we know about this destination?

The name Dalat means "the stream of Lat", in reference to the Lat tribe (also known as Co Ho) who were established in what is now Lam Dong province. Located in the Southern Highlands of Vietnam, approximately 300 km from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and 155 km from the beaches of Mui Ne, Dalat is a resort decorated by majestic pine forests as well as beautiful villas dating from the times of French colonization.

Dalat at dawn - Photo: Vnexpress
Dalat at dawn - Photo: Vnexpress

At the beginning of the 20th century, the famous Franco-Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin was behind the creation of the resort on the Lang Biang plateau. The disciple of Louis Pasteur made the request to the French governor general, Paul Doumer. Perched at an altitude of 1,500 meters, Dalat benefits from a much cooler climate than most major cities in Vietnam, in fact. The colonial authorities therefore built the mountain station there from 1907, following a plan drawn up by the famous architect Ernest Hébrard.

Locals'' houses influenced by French architecture - Source: Bui Huy Tuong
Locals' houses influenced by French architecture - Source: Bui Huy Tuong

The French urban planner, who carried out much work in French Indochina, was a supporter of the combination of architectural tastes then in force in France with vernacular Asian styles. He equipped the Lat site with villas and boulevards, seeking to recreate a city similar to those in the Alps. Wealthy French people from this part of the world flocked to Da Lat, settling in elaborately constructed mansions. Among the most famous are the parents of actress Marie-France Pisier, who was born there in 1944. Today, it is a popular vacation destination among Vietnamese travelers and tourists alike. foreigners looking for cool weather to escape the tropical heat for a few days.

When to go to Dalat?

Temperatures are pleasant all year round, generally varying between 15 and 30 degrees Celsius, and averaging around 22°C. At the same time, Dalat's occasional tropical showers have helped keep the city and its surroundings pleasantly green and pure. The combination of cool temperatures and frequent absence of humidity earns it its name “city of eternal spring”. If bathing in a pleasant and mild climate most of the time is important to you, a stay in the old colonial station is essential for you!

Cherry blossoms blooming in Dalat in spring - Source: Vnexpress
Cherry blossoms blooming in Dalat in spring - Source: Vnexpress

Da Lat has two distinct seasons, firstly the dry season between November and March, considered the best to go there. Then there is the wet, even rainy, season from April to October. But you can experience four seasons in a single day. Early in the morning, visitors often see fog covering the city. The weather is quite cold, generally varying from 15°C to 18°C. At midday it becomes quite dry, sunny, but not too hot.

How to get there ?

The easiest and fastest way to reach Dalat is by plane. There are direct flights from major Vietnamese cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and Danang. But if you plan to explore the country in more detail, you can travel by bus to better admire the landscapes and vegetation. There are numerous connections and the most popular are with HCMC, as well as Mui Ne or Nha Trang on the sea coast.

Roads between major tourist destinations have recently been renovated, reducing travel times. The bus to or from HCMC takes around six hours, while reaching Dalat and Mui Ne only takes around four hours.

Best places to see in Dalat

  • Xuan Huong Lake

Located in the heart of the city with beautiful parks and gardens surrounding it, Xuan Huong Lake is one of Dalat's top attractions, very popular with locals and tourists alike. Its surface is as smooth as a mirror reflecting the romantic landscape of the “city of eternal spring” with its pine forests, meadows and gardens, as well as its colonial-style buildings.

Nowadays, visitors can stroll along the lake and relax under the evergreens. They can also go pedal boating while admiring the spectacular architecture of the Thuy Ta pavilion. Let yourself be tempted by an elegant swan boat ride, it's the best way to discover the beauty of the lake.

Xuan Huong Lake at sunset - Photo: Hung Tran
Xuan Huong Lake at sunset - Photo: Hung Tran
  • Tuyen Lam Lake

The largest body of water in Da Lat is surrounded by a peaceful forest of lush green pine trees. Located at the foot of the Phuong Hoang Mountains and southeast of the Truc Lam Zen Monastery, Tuyen Lam Lake is a popular destination with its beautiful landscapes and numerous and diverse tourist areas. It differs from the other lakes of Da Lat by its green oases covered with pine trees, where you can admire a magnificent mist of wild majesty.

The romantic landscape of Tuyen Lam Lake
The romantic landscape of Tuyen Lam Lake
  • Thac Voi Elephant Waterfall

The winding roads around Dalat will take you to the Elephant Waterfalls, or Thac Voi, one of the area's main attractions. To view the magnificence of the falls, tourists have to climb around 145 steps on winding paths of natural rocks and wooden stairs. Efforts are amply rewarded by reaching the summit.

Tourists are amazed, in fact, by the majestic beauty of the falling stream, the mysterious forests and the fog conducive to all types of dreams. The best time of day to visit the Elephant Waterfall is early in the morning. The cool breeze and panoramic view help visitors relax with a great start to the day.

Elephant Waterfall or Thac Voi
Elephant Waterfall or Thac Voi
  • Dalat Flower Garden

Given that the city is nicknamed "the city of a thousand flowers", it is easy to understand the interest in visiting the spectacular Dalat Floral Park. Located next to Xuan Huong Lake, it covers a large area and more than 300 kinds of flowers are displayed there. As you walk through this enormous garden, you will see roses, lilies and daffodils planted alongside magnificent orchids and cacti from various regions of Africa in particular. The ideal time of year for this is winter, when the flower festival is held.

  • Dalat Station

Pointed roofs are one of Dalat's architectural features, and nowhere can they be admired more than at its old train station. Designed in 1943 by French architects Moncet and Reveron, its “Art Deco” building contrasts sharply with its original three-pronged roof. It is meant to represent the magnificent Lang Biang Mountains which lie nearby.

Dalat Station offers an interesting and harmonious example of the combination of Western and Vietnamese architectural styles. It is considered one of the most beautiful in all of Southeast Asia with the Art Deco style in its architectural structure and its striking resemblance to that of Deauville.

dalat vietnam
Dalat station was inspired by the Art Deco style

Dalat station was the place where one of the very few rack railways in the world started. The only other double route of this type is the Jungfraujoch, in Switzerland, in fact. It is a railway system comprising a third central toothed rail, placed between those reserved for the movement of wagons. A wheel also with teeth, located under the locomotive, ensures traction on the very steep slopes of the high plateaus.

Today, a small section of the rack railway and a steam locomotive are still on display in Dalat Station. You can board a charming old steam train which takes you on a short but scenic 7 km journey to the small village of Trai Mat. 500m from its station, you can visit Linh Phuoc Pagoda, also known for its magnificent architecture.

  • Linh Phuoc Pagoda

A particularly original and astonishing attraction is the Linh Phuoc Pagoda, one of the most famous and strange temples in all of Vietnam, thanks to its unique architecture. Built between 1949 and 1952, then supplemented by various buildings and extensions added over the years, the superb religious building is covered in beautiful mosaics. Its impressive Dragon Temple, which is 49 meters high, is remarkably veiled by 12,000 beer bottles.

In addition to housing the country's tallest bell tower, Linh Phuoc Pagoda also has an absolutely magnificent ceremonial hall. You can find many bas-reliefs there depicting the life and times of the Buddha. An incredible work of art, the seven-tiered pagoda is truly a must-see in Dalat.

Inside Linh Phuoc Pagoda
Inside Linh Phuoc Pagoda
  • The churches of French Indochina

Being a former French health resort, the city and its buildings were strongly influenced by colonial architecture. This is particularly the case of Saint Nicolas Cathedral, located on Tran Phu Street, designed like many Roman Catholic churches in Europe. It is also known as the “Cathedral of the Rooster” because of the statue of a Gallic rooster perched at the top. The largest Christian religious building in Da Lat is one of the oldest and most remarkable left by the French.

Saint Nicolas Cathedral or Coq Cathedral, depending on the premises
Saint Nicolas Cathedral or Coq Cathedral, depending on the premises

The Domaine de Marie, a few kilometers away, includes another beautiful church in Dalat. It attracts many visitors every year, particularly thanks to its rather impressive structure. Its roof, in particular, is reminiscent of that of the Rong houses, the traditional residences of the ethnic groups living in the Hauts Plateaux. Those interested in original architectural styles cannot miss the visit.

  • Bao Dai Palace

One of the most popular French architectures is the Bao Dai Summer Palace (or Bao Dai III Palace more precisely). It is named after the last king of Vietnam, who made it a place of relaxation for his family. Built between 1933 and 1938, the palace also has an Art Deco style, in the shape of a cube, and houses 25 rooms.

Inside we find many precious objects still preserved in good condition. There are notably several sculptures of the royal family, the statues of Bao Dai and his father Khai Dinh, as well as a photo of Angkor Wat offered to the monarch by his peer King Sihanouk of Cambodia.

Summer Palace of the last king of Vietnam - King Bao Dai
Summer Palace of the last king of Vietnam - King Bao Dai
  • Truc Lam Zen Monastery

Located on Phoenix Mountain overlooking Tuyen Lam Lake, Truc Lam Monastery is a very peaceful place to relax. Its beautiful pagoda and main ceremonial hall feature incredible architecture,

To reach the complex, visitors must climb a long staircase. This takes them through intricately decorated gates and through beautiful gardens, offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Its tranquil setting is perfect for meditation.

  • Hang Nga Crazy House

Another unique place to visit during your stay in Dalat is the Hang Nga Crazy House. This house, as bizarre in appearance as its name suggests, was designed and built in 1990 by Dang Viet Nga, a famous Vietnamese architect. It looks like a giant tree and includes various sculptures, each one more strange than the last.

The Hang Nga was inspired by Antoni Gaudí, the famous Catalan architect of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The building does not have any right angles, practically, and each of its rooms has a particular theme. There is, for example, an “ant room”, or even those “of the tiger” or “of the kangaroo”, all decorated in an elaborate and eclectic way. This is another must-see visit on a Dalat city tour!

Hang Nga Crazy House with strange architecture
Hang Nga Crazy House with strange architecture
  • Dalat Market

The Da Lat night market is also a must-see destination. In particular, there is an endless number of local dishes at affordable prices. Among the most popular are traditional rice noodles, banh mi, Vietnamese pizza made from toasted rice paper with a variety of toppings (called “banh trang nuong”).

The market attracts a lot of people in the evening, for its dishes or for the atmosphere of the street shows. Hip-hop dancing and roller skating are practiced there, for example, in the open spaces of the site. Although freshly prepared food is the focus of the place, people also go there to buy – or simply discover – all types of objects and items, including textiles (traditional clothing), flowers and souvenirs.

Our last words,

With all its interesting features, Dalat is an ideal destination to put in your list of visits during your next Vietnam vacation. You will have the opportunity to discover another side of the S-shaped country and learn why locals love the city and its surroundings.

The Southern Highlands are an ideal place for those who want to experience a place of unspoiled beauty, with specific traditions and cultures. They are full of natural wonders, stunning mountains and lakes, with beautiful waterfalls and primeval forests. Our tour will allow you to immerse yourself in nature and benefit from the cool and pleasant temperature of the “city of a thousand flowers”. Before or after admiring the superb, equally intact landscapes of Buon Me Thuot, or tasting the attraction of the coastal cities of central and southern Vietnam, Nha Trang and Mui Ne.

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