South Vietnam,  Travel Guides,  Vietnam

Explore Da Lat – Between tourism and agriculture

Da Lat is a well loved tourism destination for domestic tourism in Vietnam. Almost every Vietnamese person you talk to about Da Lat will tell you that it is the most romantic city in the country. There are flower parks and paddle boat areas, as well as many cafes with a romantic view. Personally, I didn’t quite get the romantic aura, but there is more to Da Lat than flowers and photo ops.

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Overview of a trip to Da Lat

Where to stay in Da Lat

When I planned my stay in Da Lat I picked a small apartment with a kitchenette to save on food costs. Although the place had great reviews I found it lacking on all fronts except safety. I did feel safe from intruders outside, but the amount of different bugs and the mouldy and rank smell I had to deal with inside made me cancel the stay halfway through.

Slightly panicked I researched a new place to stay and saw on booking.com that the place that had been my second choice still had availability. So I hopped on a Grab Motorbike Taxi, asked about the room rates and the following day (that night I was staying on a coffee farm) the dad of the family that runs the Da Lat Stream Hotel* came to pick me and all my luggage up for free. I stayed in an inner room which was quite humid (not their fault, it was the beginning of rainy season), but it was also very quiet, which was amazing.

You can cross-reference them against other hotels:

What to do in Da Lat

If you aren’t looking for a romantic getaway, but still want to explore Da Lat and the surrounding countryside here are some other things you can do on your trip.

Explore Da Lat with a local

If possible I always try to spend a day with a local in any new place, nobody knows their city as someone who has grown up in it after all. In Da Lat I met Anna, who offers a tour of Da Lat on AirBnB Experiences. I had a lot of fun with Anna, walking through the town at sunset and hearing about culture, agriculture, food and drinks of Da Lat. We went to many places and had delicious food I haven’t had anywhere in Vietnam before. My favourite was the “Vietnamese Pizza”. It was an excellent start to my time in Da Lat! It felt like I was exploring the town with a friend ๐Ÿ™‚

Palaces, Museums and the French Quarter

Bao Dai, the last emperor of Vietnam had palaces built in Da Lat, or took over the villas of rich French colonialists. Those palaces were used for living and working in Da Lat. Two of these palaces, located in and around the French Quarter of Da Lat, can be visited today.

Bao Dai Palace 1

The Palace 1, formerly the villa of a French millionaire colonialist, is located at 01 Tran Quang Dieu Street, Ward 10, Dalat City. This palace is built in the style of French country houses around 1930. The area around the palace is 60 hectares wide and covered by flower gardens, sculptures, stables and a lush pine forest.

After the reign of Bao Dai, while Ngo Dinh was President of the Republic of Vietnam the Palace was used by him and expanded with tunnels and working rooms for more personnel and military officers. The palace was used as the resort for the heads of state until 1975. In 2014 the palace was renovated and restored to how it looked during Bai Dai’s reign.

Bao Dai Summer Palace 3

The third Palace, built in the art deco style, is also known as the summer palace and located at 01 Trieu Viet Vuong Street, Ward 4, Dalat City. This Summer Palace was used by King Bao Dai and his family to live in and work in when visiting Da Lat. This palace felt way more living- and family-orientated, with different bedrooms for the emperor, the empress (4th picture), the crown prince (first picture) and the couples four other kids. The kitchen (3rd picture) was also very big and set up to cater to a family and guests.

Lam Dong Museum

The museum of the province Lam Dong is situated in it’s capital city Da Lat. It is a general museum covering local history, science and art with over 15,000 artifacts in it’s exhibitions:

  • Nature of the Lam Dong Province
  • Da Lat then and now
  • Archaeological findings in Lam Dong
  • Typical cultural features of indigenous people: Mแบก, Cฦก Ho, Cho Ro
  • Lam Dong Province during French Colonization and the war for independence
  • Lam Dong Province during and after the US-Vietnam war
  • The “Thousand Flowers of Dalat” with typical flowers of Da Lat such as Roses, Hydrangeas, Orchids, Lilies, etc. preserved by Japanese technology

Da Lat Train Station

Da Lat Train Station is Vietnam’s oldest railway station and dates back to Vietnam’s colonial past. Even though it is not an active part of the national railway anymore, there is still a vintage train departing from it several times a day.

Architecturally, the building itself is a mix of old French railway stations and traditional Vietnamese communal houses. Its three triangular roofs were modelled after the three peaks of the nearby mountain Langbiang.

Domaine de Marie

The Domaine de Marie is a church made out of pink limestone in Da Lat. Like the train station it combines French and Vietnamese architecture. It is an active Catholic convent with a nunnery that provides schooling for local children, but it is also a popular picture spot for tourists and locals alike.

French Quarter

During the colonial time of French rule over Vietnam Da Lat was hailed as a tourist destination. Many rich French people had villas built within a pine forest on a mountain slope, providing a calm atmosphere while still offering great views of the valley. Today the view is mostly gone, since the city of Da Lat has expanded into the French Quarter as well, but the architecture of the villas still reminds of the old times.

Canyoning and Alpine Coaster

If you are the type to seek an adrenaline rush instead of history and calm culture (not looking down on either, I do both) you can go on the 2,4 km long alpine coaster that takes you from the parking lot to the Datanla Waterfalls main area or go canyoning (including rappelling, abseiling and using a waterfall with a raging current as as water slide) within the same waterfall system.

Both are thrilling experiences that will get your blood rushing. But along the way, you also get to see breathtaking nature and bond with the other people in the group. More about it here: Canyoning in Da Lat.

Check-In at a photo op

One of the most popular things to do in Da Lat is to check in at a photo op park, or visit certain spots in the town which are set up as the ideal photo backgrounds. People flock to these places in crowds, dressed up and even queue for the chance of taking the perfect picture.

Lam Vien Square is one of those picture spots in the city, with two illuminated modern glass buildings the area on the banks of Xuan Huong Lake get crowded in the late afternoon. Other check in parks include Mongo Land (a theme park with photo ops, giant slides and picnic spots), Da Lat Mushroom Village (a farm/theme-park around mushrooms), Da Lat Lumiere* (a light and art installation) and many others.

Da Lat is also called “the city of flowers“, after a government effort to increase local and foreign tourism to the city. While I was there most flowers weren’t in bloom yet, but depending on when you go they might be. Here is a current list of the flower gardens of Da Lat.

Take a self guided tour to the Truc Lam Monastery and the Clay Tunnels

The area around Tuyen Lam Lake south of Da Lat is a perfect day tour destination. Reachable from the city by the Da Lat Cable Car this scenic landscape has something for everyone: breathtaking nature, panoramic views across the lake, the beautifully restored Truc Lam Buddhist Monastery, options for kayaking or SUP, check in photo parks and an open air art gallery in the form of the Clay Tunnel.

You can explore most of this area in half a day to a day and you don’t need to book a tour to do it, more on that here: Self guided tour to the Clay Tunnels and Truc Lam Monastery

Overnight farmstay in the Gia Lรขm Commune

On AirBnB I found a farm stay that offered a one-day experience with an overnight stay included: Elon Farm. I messaged them and after talking to Jenny I decided to book a day with her at the farm. I got the experience of the full process of growing coffee, processing the coffee beans, roasting coffee and making several delicious cups of coffee with her.

After a family style lunch we rode bicycles around the village and Jenny showed me a silkworm farm and silk factory, we stopped at the nearby Linh แบจn Pagoda for sunset and ventured up close to the Elephant Waterfall.

More details about it here: Elon Farm – Experiencing Coffee and exploring the Gia Lรขm Commune

What to eat and drink in Da Lat

Da Lat has another nickname: โ€œthe city of eternal springโ€, since it is a mountain town with mostly temperate climate. Surrounded by many different farms and plantations Da Lat has developed a rich cuisine that is quite different from the rest of Vietnam.

I linked all of the mentioned foods in the map at the end of the blogpost.

Something you will find all over the city and in many different forms and variations are Xiu Mai = Meatballs. My favourite version was Banh Mi Xiu Mai: Baguette with xiu mai and egg. Another version is Baguette served with the meatballs in a broth with, pork skin and Vietnamese pork ham.

You can also find Xiu Mai in the sauce for Banh Can = Mini Pancakes, similar in the cooking method to the Dutch Poffertjes, with different savoury fillings. I tried Banh Can with egg and with egg and beef at different places. The pancakes themselves weren’t that different from each other, but the sauce is usually a family recipe and can change the overall taste of the dish drastically.

Baked rice paper (banh trang nuong): This is a savory snack made by grilling a thin rice paper topped with a variety of ingredients, including minced meat, dried shrimp, sausage, scallions, and herbs. This crispy, savory, and slightly sweet snack is perfect for enjoying on the go.

With many avocados growing around the city Da Lat is one of the prime spots for Kem bฦก = avocado ice cream. You can get it from many street food vendors or at the market, there it’s usually mixed with milk or coconut cream, like at Thanh Thao Dalat. At Chแบกm, an ice cream chain from Da Lat, the avocado ice cream is made from only avocado, served with different toppings like caramelized coconut, avocado slices, clear boba and milk foam.

Mulberry is another fruit that is grown in large quantities around Da Lat. While the leaves are used to feed silkworms the berries are made into jam, juice or preserved in sugar. Something I’ve seen here a lot in cafes is mulberry yoghurt.

Da Lat is also home to not one but two big milk enterprises: Da Lat Milk Joint Stock Company and Vinamilk. The milk from here is sold all over the country and is internationally certified. From this milk the famous Da Lat Yoghurt is made. It is sweet, without added sweeteners and a lot firmer than Yoghurts you are used from from the EU or USA.

Steamed thin rice pancake (banh uot): This special kind of pancake is made by steaming a slightly fermented rice batter on a cloth that is stretched over a pot of boiling water. These thin rice pancakes are often eaten with fish sauce, fried shallots, and cha lua (Vietnamese pork sausage).

Da Lat Wine is sold all over the country and comes in three variations: Dalat wine โ€“ Premium, Dalat Red Wine and Dalat White Wine. It is less intense and less sour in flavour than the French versions and goes very well with heavy foods.

It almost seems wrong to write this, but one thing you have to eat in Da Lat is French Toast. At Trangs Cookery, a restaurant specializing in all day Breakfast and a small number of hand picked Western dishes I had one of the best French Toast in the world. It was so good I went there five times in total during my two weeks in Da Lat.

What began 2010 as “planting, processing and trying to sell the green coffee beans” flourished into La Viet Coffee over the following years. Roasting their beans inhouse, this Da Lat based Coffee Roastery and Cafรฉ now sells speciality coffee all over the world and has five locations all over the country. At La Viet you can try different coffee blends with different brewing methods, or choose from their menu of cold brew cocktails (coffee instead of alcohol) like a Mulberry Lemon Cold Brew or innovative coffee drinks like Lavender Milk Coffee.

Map to Explore Da Lat

How to read the map: The map has three layers: Basics, To Do (nature spots, pagodas and churches, historic buildings and museums, photo-spots and shopping opportunities) and Food & Drink (street vendors, restaurants and cafes). You can open the menu on the top left and choose the layers of the map.

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