Da Lat (also known as Dalat), the capital of Lam Dong province, has long been rated a favorite holiday destination in Vietnam. The city rose during the French colonial period and many buildings of historical importance still remain in place.
The city’s cool climate, natural beauty and slow pace of life are unique features of the Central Highlands, distinct from other regions in the country. Read on for Da Lat travel tips, itinerary ideas and a comprehensive guide to getting there.
The story of Da Lat
Da Lat was the dream of Alexandre Yersin, a French-Swiss doctor looking to establish the first French-style health resort in Asia. Having travelled extensively around Cochinchina (Southern Vietnam) and Annam (Central Vietnam), it is said that Yersin was the first person to identify the area around Dankia Lane and Lang Biang mountain as the one with perfect weather conditions to build a resort town.
Commissioned in 1897 by the French General Governor Paul Doumer, Yersin’s fantastic hill resort station was filled with manicured gardens, opulent villas, turn-of-the-century hotels and a huge lake surrounded by forests of pine trees, ideal to welcome French officials and military officers away from the torrid summer in Saigon.
The new hill resort started taking shape by 1905. Building a city with the standards of a French hill resort was not an easy task. The Cam Ly river was enlarged with a dam upstream to create a lake surrounded by the Annamit mountain chain. In this perfect landscape, villas and sanatoriums were created. Da Lat was born and soon turned into Indochina’s most prestigious health resort town.
With the opening of the road to Saigon in 1915, the city started to grow. The city was covered by villas in a style similar to the Southwest of France or Normandy. Many French architects who developed beach resort destinations reproduced the same models in Da Lat. Large hotels like Hotel du Parc or Dalat Palace were inspired by famous hotels in Deauville in Normandy. These hotels are still open today and give a romantic and nostalgic feeling of the old Indochina.
Golf courses, parks, schools, hospitals, cafes, and restaurants turned Da Lat into a piece of France in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The city attracted not only public officials and wealthy businessmen but also the emerging new Vietnamese elite. In 1939, the French authorities decided to relocate the Colonial Government six months per year to accelerate the city development. New offices and residences for the General Governor, and Palaces for the Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai and his family were established in Da Lat.
The Da Lat–Thap Cham Railway, connecting the city of Da Lat to the main North–South Railway at Thap Cham in Ninh Thuan province, was established in 1932 after thirty years of construction in phases, beginning in 1903, providing easy access from the lowlands and the coast.
The railway line was abandoned during the Vietnam War and gradually dismantled after the North Vietnamese victory in 1975. A 7 km section of the line between Da Lat Railway Station and the nearby village of Trai Mat was restored in 1990 and returned to active use as a tourist attraction under the name of “Dalat Plateau Rail Road”. It remains active as of today.
When to visit Da Lat
The best time to go to Dalat is during the dry season from early November to the end of March. The end of autumn, the beginning of winter and beginning of spring also make good times to visit. During these months, travelers can find many of Da Lat’s native flowers such as wild sunflowers and cherry blossoms in full bloom around the city. Avoid the rainy season during April to October, as almost daily afternoon thunderstorms will make it less enjoyable to venture outdoors.
Best 6 places to visit in Da Lat
The best way to enjoy Dalat is to simply stroll around the town: discovering its beautiful French villas and palaces, sitting around Xuan Huong Lake during sunset and going to the night market to taste Da Lat’s famous fruits.
In the city surroundings, travelers can enjoy the great outdoors with activities such as trekking through the pine forests and sightseeing at lakes and waterfalls.
1. Visit the City’s Iconic Architecture
The largest structure in town is the Lycée Yersin, the former Yersin Secondary School built in 1927. With its tall belfry in red bricks imported from Europe, the school recalls the architecture of Northern France. It is now a Teachers University and is open to visit after classes.
Da Lat Railway Station designed in 1932 by French architects Moncet and Reveron bears a resemblence to Deauville-Trouville Railway Station and incorporates elements of Art Deco, fused with local influences.
Don’t miss a visit to the former Palaces. There are four in Da Lat, three of which are open to the public. The most beautiful is certainly Palace 1, with its opulent gardens. It was originally a French-Italian Mansion for a millionaire who owned electric factories in Shanghai.
Palace 3 used to be the official residence of the Emperor Bao Dai. The structure was constructed between 1933 and 1938 and has preserved all the furniture of all the imperial family. The building is also surrounded by magnificient gardens.
The Queen’s Palace can be found behind the Lam Dong Museum. Modest by its size, the palace recalls the architecture of classical villas on the French Riviera.
2. Relive the Past in a Historic Hotel
Travellers in Da Lat have also the opportunity to stay in some of the historical hotels and former sanatoriums. The Dalat Palace is a luxurious five-star property overlooking the center with its lake and reminding of the opulent lifestyle of the 30s. More modest — and cheaper — but also located in a French Art Deco building, the Hotel Du Parc is a good alternative.
Da Lat’s most pictorial hotel property is probably the Ana Mandara Villas, near to Domaine de Marie monastery. Former villas for French high-rank public servants have been converted into an exquisite resort: colonial style villas with Art Deco furniture are hidden in pine forests. The Dalat Casada Resort is also located in a series of Art Deco French villas surrounded by gardens near Lam Dong Museum.
Finally, another amazing hotel for visiting is the Guesthouse of the Vietnam Labour Confederation, which is located on the hill dominating the lake. Reserved for the Union, restaurants are however open to the public while the hotel itself is a spectacular mansion from the 1930s.
3. Rise above the Clouds on Thien Phuc Duc Hill
Start off the day on cloud nine, and head to Thien Phuc Duc Hill early in morning to experience the breathtaking sea of clouds over the city. The access point is located about 30 kilometres North of Da Lat.
4. Hike to Da Lat’s Dramatic Waterfalls
Probably the cleanest and most breath-taking waterfall of Da Lat, Pongour’s misty curtains cascading over the terraced rocks is a sight to behold. Another highly recommended sight is the Elephant waterfall, smaller in scale but with impressive dramatic torrents.
5. Relax on Tuyen Lam Lake
If you wish to enjoy more of Monther Nature, you can spend the afternoon relaxing around the scenic and peaceful lake of Tuyen Lam, on the outskirts of the city. A short walk away, Truc Lam Zen Monastery is also worth a visit.
6. Hunt for Bargains at the Night Market
After sunset, visit Da Lat’s night market. It is popular spot where locals and visitors gather in the evening to enjoy street-food and do a little shopping. You can find all sorts of stuff here, from clothes to souvenirs and fruits.
How to get to Da Lat?
Lien Khuong International Airport (DLI) serves the city of Da Lat with domestic and international flights from Thailand. There are also bus routes connecting Da Lat with major tourist destinations in the South Central Coast and Southern Vietnam.
Designed by French architects Moncet and Reveron in 1938, Da Lat Railway Station is now a historical landmark for the city and only serves a touristic route in a vintage locomotive to the village of Trai Mat.
Baolau makes it easy to compare transportation options and make advance booking for plane, train and bus tickets. Find out more with our comprehensive transportation guides to flights, buses and trains in Vietnam.
- Within Vietnam, Vietnam Airlines and VietJet Air operate domestic flights connecting Hanoi to Da Lat, Hai Phong to Da Lat, Vinh to Da Lat, Hue to Da Lat, Da Nang to Da Lat, Ho Chi Minh to Da Let and Can Tho to Da Lat.
- From Thailand, Thai VietJet Air operates international flights connecting Bangkok to Da Lat.
– Phuc Thuan Thao operates regular bus services from Tuy Hoa to Da Lat.
– The Sinh Tourist, Phuong Trang (Futa Bus) operate regular bus services from Nha Trang to Da Lat.
– The Sinh Tourist, Phuong Trang (Futa Bus), Thinh Phat Limousine operate regular bus services and Hoang Vu Limousine and Minh Tri Limousine operate limousine van services from Ho Chi Minh to Da Lat.
Book your plane, train and bus tickets to Da Lat online
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