Local Insight: Dalat
The City of Love
Inspired partly by the French city of Le Touquet, Dalat is a true showcase of colourful colonial architecture - a genuine European alpine town, and one of the first cities to utilise history’s first modern city planners.
For every horrid plastic swan in Xuan Huong lake, there are twice as many memorable attractions, including an entire mini-village of the best embroidery in the country and some of the lushest tea plantations you’ll see in the region. For every garbage-strewn lake, you get a gem like Ana Mandara Villas Dalat, where an 80 year old preserved villa becomes your hotel room for a night or two.
“For every garbage-strewn lake, you get a gem like Ana Mandara Villas Dalat.”
First and foremost, get a motorbike or hire a driver during the duration of your stay. Dalat city is small, but you will want to hit some of the gems not covered by most travel agencies (the Dalat Easy Rider Club is an exception).
You’ll want to travel outwards to Cau Dat early morning, a little over 20km southeast from the city centre. As you follow the small stones handpainted with the distance remaining, you will see the vegetation around you become a more vibrant shade of green, finally culminating in gorgeous tea and coffee plantations on rolling hills that surround a small hill town.
Once back in the centre, take a break and stop over at one of the worst museums in the country. The Biological Research Institute, unofficially named the Taxidermy Museum, is so bad it’s good. At VND15,000, it’s somewhat overpriced. For VND10,000 you can go to the Lam Dong Museum, which is actually well maintained and educational. But what sets the this museum apart is its spooky atmosphere, many unlabeled specimens, poorly done taxidermy, poor state of repair, asylum-like hallways and other unintentional thrills, which all lend to it a horror-movie feel. It is certainly more authentic than the Crazy House - the twisted, Disneyland like hotel which graces all Dalat tour itineraries.
“Once back in the centre, take a break and then stop over at one of the worst museums in the country.”
During your travels around Dalat you will notice the many colonial-style villas - and a few mansion-like palaces. Dalat’s three palaces, either bought or built for Bao Dai, the last king of Vietnam, are inspired by Le Touquet’s architecture. In the 1930s Bao Dai visited Le Touquet before World War II with newlywed queen Nam Phuong. His visit inspired what you see today. The only palace accessible to the general public is the late king’s summer palace (Palace III) where Bao Dai lived for a time. If early-to-mid 20th century palatial decor and houseware is your thing, it might be worth a look, otherwise you can skip it.
There are some attraction that are unavoidably full of tourists, but so intrinsic to Dalat that it would be a shame to miss them. These include Dalat’s night market and XQ Historical Village.
The Dalat market comes alive at night, with numerous food and clothing vendors serving a dizzying amount of products to tourists and locals. If you happen to forget your warm clothes, you can buy them for ridiculously low prices (VND 40,000 and up for a grandpa-style winter jacket).
“The Dalat market comes alive at night, with numerous food and clothing vendors serving a dizzying amount of products to tourists and locals.”
The XQ Historical Village showcases Vietnam’s most skilled embroiderers crafting some of the best work in the country - stunning portraits and landscapes that take months to years to complete. The place is swarming with visitors from all over the globe, but don’t let the traffic disturb you from the art, a painstaking labour of both traditional values and rebellious tendencies.
If you’re in an adventurous mood, Phat Tire Ventures provides kayaking, rafting, hiking, cycling and more - there are not that many places in Vietnam with so many adventure activities in one location, so take advantage while you’re here. They also organise camping for children, which is pretty unique in the country.
Dalat also has three well-maintained golf courses. The city’s weather is perfect for golfing - even when it’s sunny it’s difficult to break a sweat.