A slice of Europe in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, Dalat found favor with the French rulers for its cool climate. Today, Dalat’s mild temperatures are popular with Travel Vietnam's travelers, as is the town’s attractive landscape of colonial villas, gardens, lakes and rolling hills. Dalat’s colorful market features locally-made specialties such as artichoke tea, coffee and the finest cool climate vegetables and flowers in Vietnam. Visit the former summer residence of Vietnam’s last emperor, Bao Dai, and meet Dalat’s famous artist monk Vien Thuc in his studio lined with thousands of his quirky compositions. The brilliantly colored silk weavings of the K’hor tribes people are a popular purchase, as are finely detailed silk embroideries.
The market is worth a visit for Dalat wine, preserves and candied strawberries. Be sure to go upstairs, as the second floor houses food stalls which make for a tasty and cheap meal. Dalat Palace Golf Club is the oldest and perhaps most beautiful course in the country. During the week, it is almost deserted, making you feel like you’ve got the whole course to yourself.
Dalat is also famous for its numerous waterfalls and lakes. Most impressive is the 30m Pongour Waterfall. Located 45km from Dalat, it is a bit of a hike and due to an upstream dam, it has slowed to a trickle. In the dry season, you can take in the view from atop a vertigo-inducing cliff.
Bao Dai’s summer palace - Known as Palace Number 3, Bao Dai’s Summer Palace was used as a retreat by the family of King Bao Dai, the last king of Vietnam. Built from 1933 to 1938, the cube-like art deco exterior angled away from the entrance point, disguises the true size of the palace, which contains 25 rooms built within the colonial architectural framework. The ground floor contains the public rooms for visiting dignitaries, including a large formal dining room and library. Upstairs are the private living quarters of the family, including the bedrooms of the King, Queen, Princes and Princesses. The palace is surprisingly simple, showing the modest lifestyle of the King.
Truc Lam Monastery - Located on Phung Hoang Mountain, Truc Lam Monastery sits 5km out of Dalat, near Tuyen Lam Lake. It is best accessed by cable car. As a functioning Zen centre, the inner part of the monastery is closed to the public, so that the monastic practitioners can practice without distraction. The monastery is quite simple, but sits amidst beautiful scenery, with views of the lake, and surrounding mountains.
The Cathedral - Built in 1931 in the style of the Roman Church, with the bell tower reaching 47 meters, it is Vietnam’s Central Highlands most interesting and well-known Christian centre. It was originally built for use by French colonial residents and holiday-makers alike. The Cathedral was funded by donations gathered by Father Nicolas, the Catholic priest of Dalat. The church itself is rarely open outside of mass times. Mass is held at 5.15am and 5.15pm Monday to Saturday and 5.15am, 7.00am, 8.30am, 2.30pm and 4.00pm on Sundays.
The old railway station - Built in 1943, the recently renovated Dalat Railway Station has a quaint art deco style, with Vietnamese architectural elements. The interior features the original ticket windows. There is an original wood-burning steamer train on the tracks at the rear of the station. Originally the track ran 84 kilometers, linking Dalat with Thap Cham in Ninh Thuan Province and due to the vertical elevation, 17 kilometers of the track was a cog system, to prevent sliding. A seven kilometer section of the line has been restored, with a newer Japanese train running to the tiny village of Trai Mat.
Xuan Huong Lake - Created by a dam in 1919, this banana-shaped lake was named after a 17th century Vietnamese poet known for her daring at tacks on the hypocrisy of social conventions and the foibles of scholars, monks, mandarins and kings. The lake can be circumnavigated along a 7km sealed path that leads past several of Dalat’s main sights, including the flower gardens, golf club and the Sofitel Dalat Palace Hotel. It is a poetic site, attracting both tourists and lovers in Dalat.
Tuyen Lam Lake - 5km south of Dalat, Tuyen Lam Lake rates as the biggest lake in the area, covering 320 hectares. Because of its various sources, Tuyen Lam is known as the lake where rivers, springs and forests meet. Kayaking tours of the lake are available, but need to be booked prior. Elephant rides through the beautiful pine forest are also available here.
Central market - Sitting in the city centre, the central market represents the heart of Dalat. Local fresh produce such as artichokes, dried fruits, vegetables and lots more are available here throughout the day, and in the evening the roads around the market are closed to traffic and the market spills on to the surrounding streets.
XQ Embroidery Village - Even if embroidery is not your thing, the artworks at XQ Village will impress. What appear to be detailed paintings are actually hand embroidered works, delicately stitched on site. Laid out like an art gallery, XQ offers the finest examples of Vietnamese embroidery.
Lat Village - At the base of Mount Langbiang is the village of the Lat ethnic minority, a local hill tribe from whom Dalat takes part of its name. There are a few hamlets known as the Lat Village. The closest, 12km north of Dalat, have seen frequent visitation and retain little authenticity, although it is possible to visit a traditional house and hear local stories from an older Lat gentleman. Seventeen kilometers south of Dalat is Dinh An village, also Lat. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you spot the concrete chicken statue. Bear in mind this is a poor area and the people are trying their hardest to make ends meet.