Dalat, Vietnam is a former French hill station nestled in the central highland region, about a six-hour ride from Saigon.
A popular destination among locals and foreigners alike, Dalat experiences a median temperature of 60 to 75°F (15-25°C) year-round, which has earned it the nickname “The City of Eternal Spring.” The combination of cool weather, scenic lake vistas, and a landscape blanketed in evergreens creates a charming character unlike any other city in Vietnam. The city proper loops around a picturesque manmade lake but on the outskirts of the city lie kaleidoscopic pagodas and raging waterfalls begging to be explored. Rent a motorbike and zip through the winding roads flanked by coffee and tea plantations as far as the eye can see. Here are my top five picks plus some honorable mentions in Vietnam’s most artistic city.
1. Adrenaline Junkies: Go Canyoning!
This activity is not for the faint of heart but is an absolute must for adventurists looking to enjoy Dalat’s numerous waterfalls unencumbered. Canyoning, the act of abseiling down a waterfall, is a vigorous task that involves rapelling backwards starting from the mouth of a waterfall . In recent years, the sport has proved fatal in the Dalat region so choosing a reputable company cannot be stressed enough. We went with Groovy Gecko Tours recommended by friends and were not only surprised by the affordability, but by the level of professionalism and safety measures executed by the guides. I would do this again in a heartbeat!
Where? 65 Truong Cong Dinh, Ward 1, Dalat, Lam Dong Province
2. Zigzag Around The Crazy House
Voted one of the top ten strangest buildings in the world, Vietnamese architect Dang Viet Nga’s structural wunderkind, The Crazy House, is easily the best $2 USD (~40,000 VND) you’ll spend in Dalat. First built in 1990, the nebulous building feels part Gaudi, part Disney, with branch-like winding staircases that skirt through fairyesque conical hollows shaped from concrete. Even non-art enthusiasts can appreciate Dang Vietn Nga’s attempt to fuse the natural and the manmade, a slogan called “crazy in creation.” The ever-evolving has a final completion date slated for 2020. The attraction also doubles as a working guesthouse.
Where? 3 Huynh Thuc Khang St, Ward 4, Dalat, Lam Dong Province
3. Be Mesmerized by Linh Phuoc Pagoda
Located about an 8-km drive from the city center in the neighboring Trai Mat Village is Linh Phuoc Pagoda, a temple adorned in the bits and bobs of recycled ware. Built in 1952, the colorful pagoda is much more whimsical than the rest of the pagodas in Vietnam with polychromatic debris decorating every inch of the pagoda. The highlights: A massive statue of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara, decorated in 700,000 dried blossoms of Dalat’s so-called “immortal flowers”, the 49-meter winding dragon in the pond whose scales are made from 12,000 glass bottles, and the Dai Hong Chung bell decorated in cast iron reliefs of the four seasons. Visitors are invited to write their wishes on a small piece of paper, turn the bell to the current season, and stick the paper on the bell. After ringing the bell three times, the prayers are then sent to Buddha.
Where? 120 Tu Phuoc Street, Ward 11, Trai Mat Village, Lam Dong Province
How To Get There: Rent a motorbike (roughly 8 minutes) or take the train from Dalat Railway Station (about 1.5 hours total)
4. Chill in your own Private Cable Car
Cable cars are not the most thrilling of experiences but Dalat’s cable car ride was an exception. The cable car takes you on a 10-minute aerial ride over the countryside, gliding over coffee plantations and pastel complexes, to the Truc Lam Pagoda. The candy colored cable cars are pod-shaped and are able to fit a max of four people, a privacy regularly unheard of when it comes to gondala rides. Tim and I had a pod all to ourselves while visiting during down season. A one-way trip costs 40,000 VND and the roundtrip costs 80,000 VND.
5. Wander Through the 100 Roofs Café
Can’t get enough of Dan Viet Nga’s work? You’re in luck. 100 Roofs Café is another project by the famed architect that echoes the aesthetics of The Crazy House, just with a little more booze involved. From the outside, the café (which is actually a bar) looks like nothing special but after your purchase of one alcoholic beverage, which acts as your entrance fee, you’re invited to explore the network of tunnels down below. The 100 Roofs Café has an extensive maze of corridors decorated in bizzaro, demented artwork that goes two floors below and ascends four floors upwards. Play a game of hide and seek with some friends. Coming at night adds to the air of mystery but if you visit during the daytime, you can enjoy an outdoor courtyard sequestered in the middle of the labyrinth.
Where? 26 Phan Boi Chau, Ward 1, Dalat, Lam Dong Province
- Stock your pantries with premium teas and coffees from the highland plantations of Dalat. The independent seller Dalat 1893 on 1H Nam Ky Khoi Nghia bottles up fruit teas, their bestsellers being passionfruit and strawberry, while L’angfarm has a wonderful inventory of gourmet coffee roasts.
- An Café on 65 Ba Thang Hai feels more like a greenhouse than a coffee shop with swing sets for chairs, an assortment of succulents arranged around the wooden picnic tables, and a bed of gravel lining the footpaths around the cafes indoor and outdoor dining spaces.
- The central market, Cho Dalat, sells everything from knitwear to dried flowers, to banh trang nuong, aka Vietnamese pizza, the streetfood snack taking Vietnam by storm.
- Artist’s Alley on and Bicycle Up on, two well-known tourist hotspots, are next door neighbors. Go to Artist’s Alley on 86 Truong Cong Dinh if you’re looking for some Western food. The one-room Bicycle Up coffee shop at the top of the alley leaves a lasting impression with its charming décor.
- Lien Hoa Bakery on 15-17 Ba Tháng Hai Phường 1 is the ubiquitous fast food stop in Dalat. The first floor is a bakery selling all sorts of baked goods with the ingredients clearly listed in English, while the second floor is a fully-operating restaurant serving mostly Vietnamese food on the cheap.
- Nem Nuong Duc Long on B14 Hoàng Văn Thụ Street specializes in a location favorite, ‘nem nuong,’ a “roll-it-yourself” dining experience using rice paper, pickled vegetables, **tofu cracklings,*** and slices of pork
On the accommodation front – The sleeping scene in Dalat is mainly comprised of independent kitschy guesthouses and hostels that capitalize on hominess. We stayed at the Pi Hostel on 61 Thủ Khoa Huân Street, on an elevated roadside overlooking the city. The six floors at Pi Hostel features both private and dorm rooms, although the dorm rooms are a considerably better value with a bathroom ensuite and a warmer comforter. A dorm room starts at $6 per night and a private room starts at $25 per night. Next door, you’ll see Memory Hostel and Dalat Lacasa Homestay just in case you need more options. It is only a five minute walk to the Dalat Market and Lien Hoa Bakery.