The immediate surprise for most visitors to Da Lat is that it just doesn’t feel like Vietnam; the cool temperatures, pine-clad hills and rambling colonial villas bring to mind Europe rather than Southeast Asia. The freshness of the climate encourages visitors to get out and about to look at the sights, of which there are plenty both in town and in the surrounding hills.
City Sights in Da Lat
A good place to begin an exploration of Da Lat attractions is at its bustling market right in the centre. Here you’ll find stacks of fruit and vegetables rarely seen in Vietnam, such as strawberries, artichokes and avocados. Many of the vendors are people of ethnic minorities, called montagnards by the French, who live in the hills around Da Lat.
It makes a pleasant walk to go around the man-made Xuan Hoang Lake – a seven kilometre stroll that passes flower gardens, a golf course and views of grand buildings like the Grand Lycee Yersin, a school set on a hill to the east of the city centre.
Just south of the school, Da Lat’s art deco railway station is also worth a look. Many people also like to ride on the shuttle service that runs five times a day, taking about half an hour to reach the nearby village of Trai Mat, then pausing for visitors to look round the striking Linh Phuoc Pagoda before returning.
A couple of memorable sights to the southwest of the centre are Bao Dai’s Summer Palace and Hang Nga’s Crazy House. The summer palace is furnished in 1930s style, and it’s easy to imagine the emperor relaxing with guests in the reception room after hunting elephants in the hills around.
The Crazy House is a bizarre structure shaped like a giant tree trunk with odd-shaped rooms decorated in imaginative ways. It functions both as a guesthouse and as a popular Da Lat attraction for visitors. Most of the colonial villas that remain from the French era are located along Tran Hung Dao, to the east of the city centre, and it’s worth making a trip out here to admire the sweeping views of rolling hills around.
If you’re at all curious about the region’s history and culture, don’t miss the Lam Dong Museum at 4 Hung Vuong. Exhibits include Cham artefacts from archaeological digs and handicrafts of minority groups such as the Koho and Churu, and it is worth stopping off here whilst sightseeing in Da Lat.
A good way to appreciate the local scenery is to make your way up Robin Hill to the north of the centre and take the cable car down to Tuyen Lam Lake, a two-kilometre, 10-minute journey passing over densely wooded hillsides. It’s also possible to take boat trips on the lake or visit Truc Lam Pagoda meditation temple.
Adventure Sports in Da Lat
The region around Da Lat is thick with forests, waterfalls and country trails which are a delight to explore, and it’s possible to sign up to go trekking, rock climbing, mountain biking or white-water rafting with local tour companies. One reliable operator is Phat Tire Ventures, who offer a variety of activities led by qualified guides for around US$20 a day.