Da Lat, located in southern Vietnam’s central highlands is known as the City of Eternal Spring or the City of Flowers, due to its climate which is cooler and perfect for various types of flowers including orchids and gerberas.
In the 19th century, it was developed as a resort town by the French and despite the various wars, traces can still be seen today. Walking around town, the look and feel is definitely less Vietnamese and more European. Compared to other Vietnamese cities, Da Lat is less touristy, part of which can be attributed to the fact that there is no functioning train station. It is however popular with domestic travelers who visit to either celebrate their wedding, or for their honeymoon.
Highlights of Da Lat
We had two full days in Da Lat, which is more than enough to see the main highlights, as well as to enjoy a trip into the countryside with the easyriders.
The Original Da Lat Easyriders
Walking through the streets of Da Lat you will more than likely get accosted by a guy or two offering an easyrider tour. The easyrider tour was started decades ago by locals with a desire to show parts of Vietnam that are off the beaten track by motorbike. The name came from an American journalist who had come to review some of their tours. The unfortunate aspect of this is that there are limited laws protecting the name, brand or idea, as such everywhere you turn people are claiming to be the original easyrider tour company. One way of previously identifying the original had been with the blue jackets worn by the drivers but unfortunately now there are no guarantees.
We booked our tour with what we thought was the original tour group after some extensive research. We met the owner at 63 Truong Cong Dinh street, who told us he was the original and showed us an ancient worn looking book filled with reviews from the 90s. He informed us that initially it was a family business but due to a family rift had split the business with his brother, who now runs a similar business at #70 . Did we book with the original? What do we know!
As part of the tour we visited the following: the Golden Buddha at the Van Hanh monastery; Me Linh Coffee Garden, where coffee beans are eaten and excreted by weasels and used in the production of the final coffee; a silk factory; a cricket farm, where crickets are grown and used to make cricket vodka; Elephant waterfall; and Cremaillere Railway Station. While the tour is a very popular one with tourists, we thoroughly enjoyed the views and chatting to our guides.
Cremaillere Railway Station
Designed by French architects in the 30s, it combines art deco elements and elements from a Cao Nguyen communal house. The station has largely not been in operation since the Vietnam War, during which it was bombed heavily and is now a tourist attraction. A number of carriages lie on the tracks close to the station and are used as shops and restaurants. Previously, trains ran from Da Lat to Saigon and to Nga Tran. Today, trains run along a 7km route solely for tourists.
Xuan Huong Lake
Driving into Da Lat, it is obvious to see that the lake is the heart of the city, literally. While there is not much to do around the lake, it is an easy stroll from most places and very picturesque. To the south of the lake, is Lam Vien square, which was opened in 2015 and features a sunflower-shaped cultural theatre, and an artichoke-shaped cafe.
Truc Lam Pagoda and Tuyen Lam Lake
Truc Lam pagoda is located on the outskirts of Da Lat and is the gateway to the Tuyen Lam lake. It can be accessed by car or cable car. We opted to ride the cable car, which covers 2.3 km and were rewarded with excellent views of Da Lat.
To access the lake there are two entrances, one after walking through the grounds of the temple (which is closed during the off-season), and one via a path from the parking lot area. The walk is down a number of stairs and steep inclines, but the view at the bottom made it all worthwhile.
Getting to cable car station
The cable car station is located about 3 kilometres from central Da Lat, in Robin Hill. The best way to get there is by taxi.
Roundtrip cable car ticket: VND 80,000.
Sleeping in Da Lat
Tulip 1 Hotel
There are 3 Tulip hotels in Da Lat, and we chose to stay at Tulip 1 due to its location and reviews. The hotel is central and within walking distance to the lake. The hotel staff were great and allowed us to check in early. Rooms are decently sized and clean, with no air-conditioning. Breakfast was not included in the room rate, but was provided complimentary the day we requested it.
Getting to Da Lat
Da Lat can be reached by either bus or plane from Saigon. We opted to fly due to the horror stories regarding dangerous driving on the Saigon-Da Lat roads. There are several low cost carriers which make it comparable to catching a bus. The Da Lat airport (Luon Khuong Airport) is however not really in Da Lat, but instead is located about 45 minutes and 28 kilometres out Da Lat. However, an airport shuttle is provided which dropped us right outside our hotel.
Shuttle ticket cost: VND 40,000