Unabashedly kitsch, Da Lat tends to either charm or repulse. The town's penchant for Disneylandesque attractions leaves many scratching their head. For others however, the stunning rural scenery, cool climate and somewhat avant-garde student scene more than compensate for the undeniably appalling taste displayed across Da Lat, the capital of Vietnam's Lam Dong province.
The town was established in 1897 after explorers decided it would make a fine resort centre. At the time, the region formed a part of French Cochinchina and offered an ideal escape from the steaming delta plains of Saigon. With an altitude of 1,500m, an average temperature of just 17 degrees Celsius and dawns often bathed in early-morning mist, it's easy to see what lured the early explorers, including bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin, whose name you'll see adorning street signs across Vietnam.
The first hotels appeared in the early 20th century and within a relatively short span of time the colonialists endowed the city with a wealth of villas and boulevards -- many of which remain today. By the 1930s an estimated 20% of the population was French. By the middle of the 20th century there were boarding schools, seminaries and military colleges and throughout World War II, Da Lat was the capital of the Federation of Indochina.
The province of Lam Dong was once rich in wildlife and Da Lat was for a while the epicentre of Vietnam's hunting "scene". This popularity nicely blended with the Vietnamese penchant for flaunting one's possessions -- for a long time some of the tattier taxidermied creatures littered the walls of many an establishment -- though thankfully they're all long gone.
Aside from turning the area into one great game park, locals took advantage of the region's fertile soils and today Lam Dong province is one of Vietnam's top-performing agricultural provinces. Da Lat fresh produce -- especially its tomatoes and strawberries -- can be found as far afield as Phnom Penh and even Bangkok. There's also a burgeoning coffee and tea trade (though we think the Buon Ma Thuot blends are better) and a massive trade in cut flowers. A nascent wine-making industry is slowly developing -- while the best grape-growing areas can be found in nearby Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan, a French-Vietnamese facility with an annual capacity of some one million litres was opened in Da Lat in early 2007.
Outside Da Lat town you'll find individual villages specialising in the cultivation of this or that -- often giving you the opportunity to find out just how mushrooms or strawberries are grown and harvested. All this makes for scenic sightseeing and the central market, with its wealth of berries, fruits and flowers, is unlike any other in the region.
Da Lat is one of Vietnam's premiere destinations for kitsch-hardened domestic tourists. For honeymooners in particular, Da Lat is where the action is -- even if it involves nothing more than a series of tacky happy snaps by Xuan Huong lake.
For non-honeymooning foreign tourists, Da Lat offers an excellent opportunity to explore some of Vietnam's hinterland, sample its outstanding produce and vacation alongside Vietnamese holidaymakers. So savour the food, do a motorcycle trip with the Easy Riders and swap addresses with some locals on the banks of Xuan Huong Lake.
There are two banks within two minutes' walking distance of the market in central Da Lat. One is Sacombank at the top of the steps, the other, down on the same level as the market, is Vietcombank. Both banks have international ATMs, as do numerous hotels around town.
Da Lat's main post office is at 02 Le Dai Hanh St, T: (063) 819999. The office is open daily from 07:30-21:00.
In the event of a medical emergency, Da Lat is well served by Lam Dong Hospital. For criminal offences, report the matter immediately to the hotel owner, who can then help you file a report at the nearest police station.
Lam Dong Hospital: 4 Pham Ngoc Thach St, T: (063) 821 369.
Post office: 02 Le Dai Hanh St, T: (063) 819999. Open daily from 07:30-21:00.
Sacombank: 32 Khu Hoa Binh, Da Lat, T: (063) 549 045. Open Mon-Fri 07:30-11:30, 13:30-17:00, and Saturday mornings.
Vietcombank: 6 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai St, T: (063) 510 479, F: (063) 510 480.
Text and/or map last updated on 30th October, 2013.
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We went to Da Lat because our local friends in Ho Chi Minh told us about it. It was a first glimpse at highlands and somewhat cooler climate before going to the far north. We stayed 3 nights in Da Lat, and we didn't get bored. The first day we rented bicycles from a bicycle rental and tour guide office in the centre of town. We rode our bicycles all the way - about 12 kms - to the Lang Bian national park. There we parked it, payed our parking and entry fees and started the climb to the top of the mountain. We had to pay a second fee to get to the peak. But it's still small enough (total about 35'000 VND, about USD 1.50). The whole trip took us about 6 hours both ways, and we enjoyed a picnic with a nice view on the top of Lang Bian mountain. On the second day we went to visit Crazy House, which is a sight in itself. Worth its VND 40'000 fee, I don't know, but then, it's only 2 dollars. From there we walked all the way to the Lam Truc pagoda, which first goes through some narrow streets in town. Be aware of wrong directions from locals, as they don't think you want to walk this far. They will point to a different, closer destination. We arrived at the pagoda after about 1 hour of walking. The road, once outside of town, leads past nice green valleys with small farms. They are quite a sight. To visit the pagoda, it is recommended to take some light long clothes to cover legs and shoulders. T-shirts are allowed. The lake can only be seen through the trees, so the best option, is to go down to town by cable car. But be aware that the lower station is a few kms away from town center. It took us another 45 minutes walk to the centre. We found enough good food in Da Lat, for cheap prices, and also a nice bakery. The Banh Mi (sandwich) with a proper french baguette seems to come from there, because you can find it at every street corner and they are usually quite good. The Da Lat red wine can be bought for as cheaply as VND 60'000 from some shops. You will also find it for slightly more, so check it out first. All in all, we had a pleasant stay, some really awesome views and quite a lot of red wine.
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By cassowary (1)
Written on 16th September, 2014 after a visit to Da Lat in September, 2014
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By cassowary, 16 September 2014