Bao Dai Summer Palace
Bao Dai’s third palace is around two kilometers from the city center, built at a great vantage in a wooded area that used to be prime hunting grounds - one of Bao Dai’s favorite pastimes.
Entrance is a very reasonable VND 15,000, and motorbike parking is VND 3,000. There is not much in the way of entertainment here besides the palace. Horseback rides, cheesy plastic animal photo-ops and a small garden line the grounds in front of the palace, adding little to the atmosphere except for cashflow.
The outside of the building is in art deco style like many historic structures in Dalat, and feels like a mix of vacation home and government facility. Funny enough, that’s what it was used for. From 1938 to 1945 this was Bao Dai’s summer home. From 1949 to 1955, when Bao Dai was Chief of State, the palace became his workspace. Afterwards Bao Dai exiled himself to France, where he remained until his death in 1997.
To enter, you need to put small covers over your shoes, available free at the entrance. The actual space is regal, spacious at 25 rooms, but overall somewhat drab and dull, likely due to the stark presentation and the monotone color scheme. Still you get a nice look into the living space of Vietnam’s last emperor, as well as some decent photo ops. Much of the furniture can be touched, and some can even be sat on. You get a sense of what it was like to walk through these grounds and live here. But whether because of age or because it has has been rearranged and somewhat stripped, it’s hard to imagine the palace as a luxurious retreat for the family - more so a formality.
After Bao Dai’s exile, Ngo Dinh Diem was installed as President of Vietnam here. You can see the workspace both men used, which has been arranged to closely mimic the way it was during Bao Dai’s era. Personal rooms such as these make it easy to put yourself in their role, pondering politics or hunting by the bookshelf.
The emperor's predilection towards hunting is evident in the various rooms, with horns hanging on the walls and the hunting guns on display past his office on the ground floor. The prince and princess’s playroom has been converted into a photo-op room, where you can don fake regal garb and pose in a fake throne. The palace is nice to walk around, if only to play-act and put yourself in place of the emperor and his family members.