Surrounded by pine tree forests, hills and lakes, Da Lat looks like a typical European resort town. Adding spring-like weather, it becomes a favourite destination to escape the summer heat for both domestic and foreign tourists.
Situated on the Western Highland – a plateau 1500 metres above the sea level in the southern part of Vietnam, the hilly town of Da Lat has been a popular retreat since colonial times. The French were the first to find this place and they very much enjoyed this poetic landscape, with pine-covered hills and valleys embracing serene lakes. Additionally, unlike most cities in southern Vietnam where the weather is hot and humid, the daily temperature in Da Lat hovers between 18 and 25 Celcius degrees, making it a perfect place to get away from the summer heat.
Da Lat as a Resort Town
After the French’s defeat in the 1950s, Da Lat’s popularity as a resort town didn’t decline. In fact, it spread among the Vietnamese elite who adored the European vibe. Residences, churches, and Swiss-style chalets soon spawned up amid pine tree forests on the slopes of Da Lat. In the next decades, the city, fortunately, escaped the war, with many of its villas and buildings remain in good shape. Though a few retain their original function, many are now turned into museums or hotels.
Speaking of architectural heritages in the hilly town, many people will immediately think of the iconic Da Lat Cathedral. Completed in 1942, this Romanesque structure serves as the diocese of Da Lat. It stands at the heart of the city, with its prominent bell tower overlooking the mirror-like Xuan Huong lake. There is a chicken sculpture atop the holy cross, thus the cathedral is often referred to as the “Chicken Church”.
Dalat Palace Hotel
Just a stone’s throw away from the cathedral is Dalat Palace – the town’s oldest and most prestigious hotel. Originally, this hotel featured Art Deco style which was popular at the time of construction (1922). Yet it shifted to Victorian-style during later stages, with glamourous dining rooms and royal-like facilities. The pièce de résistance is, however, the expansive manicured garden that offers a sweeping over the Xuan Huong Lake. Just like the Metropole in Hanoi, this grande-dame has been home away from home to playwrights, ambassadors, and state leaders from all over the globe.
Da Lat Railway Station
Opened in 1938, Da Lat Railway Station is the terminal of the train route connecting Da Lat and Phan Rang. It is notable for its unique architecture that combines French Art Deco style with the gable roofs of nhà sàn (communal houses of the ethnic minorities residing in the Western Highland). The station had been an important gateway to this hilly town until 1968 when the war intensified. Since the 1990s, it has returned to service but as a tourist attraction. A 7-km section of the line was also restored, linking the town centre with the nearby village of Trai Mat.
Bao Dai Residences
Aside from Hue, nowhere in Vietnam is related to Bao Dai more than Da Lat. The last emperor spent a lot of time in this resort town after returning to the country in the late 1940s. He even built and purchased several residences, two of which have now become museums.
Located near the Pasteur Institute, Dinh 3 (Residence Nr. 3) is the most popular Bao Dai property. It was built between 1933 and 1939 and served as the retreating place for the royal family. The mansion is the cooperative work between French and Vietnamese architects. It bears the mark of the Art Deco style, with unmistakable curved facades, long horizontal lines, railings, and pothole windows. The interior is also relatively modest, featuring high ceilings, simple furniture, and antiques.
Dinh 1 (Residence Nr. 1), on the other hand, was originally constructed for a French millionaire. It was bought by Bao Dai in 1949 because he liked this beautiful landscape. In the following decades, the residence was largely abandoned. It has only regained its former glory thanks to a restoration project started in 2014. Dinh 1 is a magnificent example of classic French architecture in Da Lat, with white stuccos, forest green shutters, and pale yellow walls. Inside are personal items and furniture dating back to the era of the last emperor.
Da Lat as an Agricultural Centre
Although Da Lat retains an attractive tourism destination, the city is also widely known for its agricultural products. Thanks to its cool climate and a decent amount of rainfall, the farms in and around the town are the main producers of strawberries, flowers, and other vegetables from the tepid zone. Here you can expect to find the freshest salad or the juiciest tomato in the country. There are also some newly invented fruit species, which are available nowhere else, except here. The farms are usually opened to the public so that visitors can see how products are cultivated, and you can buy them directly from the farmers.
Practical Information about Da Lat
- Taking a flight is the most convenient way to go to Da Lat. The flight takes 45 minutes if departing from Saigon. From Hanoi, it takes approximately 90 minutes. Lien Khuong (DLI) is the closest airport, which is located 33 kilometres south of the city.
- Travelling by cars/ intercity buses takes 4-5 hours, but you can see the landscape changes along the route, from fields of rubber trees in Dong Nai, tea plantations in Bao Loc to pine-covered valleys before reaching the resort town.
- Though this hilly town is a year-round destination, the best time to visit is during the dry season (Nov-Apr) because the rainfall might be torrential and persistent.