The central highlands cover the southern part of the Truong Son Mountain Range (Annamite Cordillera) and include the provinces of Lam Dong, Dac Lac (Dak Lak), Gia Lai and Kon Tum. The region, which is home to many hi;; tribe minority groups or Montagnards (French for high landers), is renowned for its cool climate, mountain scenery, and innumerable streams, lakes and waterfalls.
Although the population of the central highlands is only around four million, the area has always been considered strategically important: during the MAerican War, considerable fighting took place around Buon ma Thuot, pleiku and Kon Tum.
The western region of the central highlands along the border with Cambodia and Laos is a vast, fertile plateau with red volcanis soil. The good soil and sparce population has not gone unnoticed – the government has targeted the area for a massive resettlement programme. Most of the new settlers are farmers from the crowded Red River Delta area in the north of the country and the government financed scheme is mostly successful, although the local hill tribes have been less than thrilleb by the sudden influx of northern Vietnamese.
The western highlands area has lost much of its natural beauty. Some remnant forests remain, but most of the trees were either destroyed by Agent Orange during the American War of have been stripped to make way for agriculture. The only thing that really adds a bit of colour to this part of Vietnam are the Montagnards, though they are nowhere near as colourful as the tribes in the deep north of Vietnam.
With the exception of Lam Dong province (where Dalat is), the central highlands was closed to foreigners, until 1992. Even Westerner with legitimate business in the area were arrested and sent back to Ho chi Minh City (HCMC). This extreme sensitivity stemmed partly from the limited nature of central government control in remote areas, but also from a concern that secret re-education camps (rumoured to be hidden in the region) would be discovered and publicised. The situation has changed and almost allof the central highland is now open to foreign visitors.
According to news reports in Bebruary 2001, the government has fobdden travellers from visiting the central high lands because of local uprising over land distribution. By early June some 900 locals minority people who had fled to Cambodia, were granted refugee status and relocated to the UAS, much to the chagrin of the Vietnamese authorities. At the time of writing the situation had cooled down, but before heading to the hills make local inquires to confirm that the areas you plan to visit are accessible.
For outdoor types, Yok Don National Park, near Buon Ma Thuot, boast many minority villages and lots of elephants. Cat Tien National Park (an excellent place for bird watching and hiking) is also accessible from the central highlands.
The central highlands is easily approached from the south, as well as points along the eastern coast. From HCMC and Nha Trang private open tour buses to Dalat are cheap and frequent, but to reach places further afield such as Buon Ma Thuot, Pleiku, Kon Tum, you’ll either have to depend on rattletrap, public buses, or arrangesome form of private transport.
Tel 063 pop 130,000 elevation 1475m
The jewel of the central highlands, Dalat is in a temperate region dotted with lakes waterfalls, evergreen forests and garddens. The cool climate and the park like environment make this one of the most delightful places in all of Vietnam.
The city was once called Le Petit Paris and to this day there is a miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower behind the main post office. Dalat is also the favourite hauntof Vietnamese artists and avant garde types, many of whom have made it their permanent home. It is also the country’s most popular honeymoon spot, and although the locals are thankfully scaling back on circus style “tourist attactions”, Dalat still remainsthe final word in Vietnamese kitsch.
Local industries include growing garden vegetables and flowers (especially beautiful hydrangeas), which are sold all over southern Vietnam. But the biggest contribution to the economy of Dalat is tourism: more than 800,000 domestic tourists and another 80,000 or so foreign tourists visit here every year.
The Dalat area was once famous for its big game hunting and a 1950s brochure boasted that “a two hour drive from the town leads to several game rich area abounding in deer, roe, peacocks, pheasants, wild boar, black bear, wild caws, panthers, tigers, gaure and elephants”. So successful were the hunters that all of the big game is now extinct. However, you will get a whiff of Dalat’s former glory by viewing some of the “souvenirs” about town:
What will stick in my mind most is the appalling stuffed animals they seem so fond of in Dalat. These seem to have spread all over Vietnam, but the citizens of Dalat in particular have taken taxidermy to new lows. We had a terrible fit of the giggles as we left the Ho Chi Minhh Mausoleum in Hanoi, when the thought surfaced of what the Dalat animal stuffers could have done with Ho Chi Minh, is the stuffing contract hadn’t been given to Russian
The city’s population includes about 5000 members of hill tribes, of which there are said to be some 33 distinct communities in Lam Dong province. Members of these hill tribes, who still refer to themselves as Montagnards, can occasionally be seen in the market places in their traditional dress. Hill tribe women of this area carry their infants on their backs in a long piece of cloth worn over one shoulder and tied in the front.
Dalat is often called the City of Eternal Spring. The average maximum daily temperature here is a cool 240C and the average minimum daily temperature is 150C. The dry season runs from December to March and even during the rainy season, which lasts more or less from April to November, it is sunny most of time.
The local area has been home to variuos Montagnard group for centuries. In the local Lat language, “Da Lat” means “River of the Lat Tribe”.
In 1893, the first European to claim the “discovery” of Dalat was Dr Alexandre Yersin, a protege of Louis Pasteur and the first person to identify the plague bacillus. The city itself was eatablished in 1912 and quickly became popular with Europeans as a cool retreat from the sweltering heat of the coastal plains and the Mekong Delta. At one point during the French colonial period some 20% of Dalat’s population was foreign, as evedenced by the 2500 odd chlet style villas scattered around the city.
During the American War Dalat was, by the tacit agreement of all parties concerned, largely spared the ravages of war. Indeed, it seems that while South Vietnamese soldiers were being trained at the city’s military academy and affluent officials of the Saigon regime were relaxing in their villas. Dalat fell to North Vietnamese forces without a fight on 3 April 1975. There is no problem with left over mines and ordnance in the Dalat area.
Dalat was the first city in Vietnam to introduce a city water purification system that provides potable water from the tap (an 80% Danish government funded project).
Dalat’s sights are very spread out, and the terrain in and around the city is hilly. Still, trekking around in Dalat is made easier by the cool temperatures. The city centre is around Rap ¾ cinema (named after the date on which Dalat was liberated in 1975), which is up the hill from the central market building.
Xuan Huong lake is a prominent landmark on the southern side of town. A delightful walk (or jog) around the 7kmlake road provides an excellent city orientation and a very nice overview of Dalat, including the French influence. Along the way are the Dalat Flower Gardens, views of the golf course and the grand old villas on Đ Tran Hung Dao. A stroll up the steps to the Hotel Sofitel Dalat Palace garden provides spectacular views. From there, head up to the post office and the higher quality buildings of old and new along Đ Tran Phu.
The best way to enjoy the forests, sites and cultivated countryside around Dalat is by foot, motorbike or bicycle. Some suggested routes include:
- Heading out on Đ 3 thang 4, which becomes National Hwy 20, to the pine forests of Prenn Pass and Quang Trung Reservoir.
- Going via the Governor General’s Residence and up Đ Khe Sanh to Thien Vuong Pagoda.
- Taking Đ Phu Dong Thien Vuong from Dalat University to the Valley of Love.
- Going out to Bao Dai’s Summer Palace and from there, after shopping at Lam Ty Ni Pagoda, heading via Đ Thien My and Đ Huyen Tran Cong Chua to Du Sinh Church.
Travel Agencies Dalat’s state-run travel agency is Dalat tourist (tel 822520, fax 834144; [email protected]; www.dalattourist.com; 2 Nguyen Thai Hoc). For booking tours or vehicle rentals, visit its booking office, Dalat Travel (tel 822125, fax 828330, [email protected]; 7 Đ 3 thang 2) near the city centre.
Dalat Travel/Kim Travel (tel/fax 822479; [email protected]; 9 Đ Le Dai Hanh) is another government travel agency.
TM Brother (tel 828383; [email protected]; 9 Đ Tang Bat Ho) is a smaller outfit selling open tour bus tickets and fast food tours.
For chau feutered tours by motorbike.
Money A convenient place to exchange money and travellers cheques, or to do Visa cash advances, is the Agriculture Bank of Vietnam (Ngan hang Nong Nghiep Vietnam; tel 822535; 6 Đ Nguyen Van Troi & 22 Khu Hoa Binh Square; 7.30am-11.30am &1 pm-4pm Mon-Fri, 7.30am – 11.30am Sat). Both banks are located right in the centre of town.
Post & Communications The main post office (14 Đ Tran Phu), across the street from the Novotel Dalat, also has international telephone, fax and email facilities.
A convenient place to check email (150d per minute) is the Viet Hung Internet Cafe (tel 835737; [email protected]; 7 Đ Nguyen Chi Thanh).
Xuan Huong Lake
Created by a dam in 1919, Xuan Huong Lake is in the centre of Dalat. It is named after a 17th century Vietnamese poet known for her daring attacks on the hypocrisy of social conventions, and the foilbles of scholars, monks, madarins, feudal lords and kings. The lake can be circumnavigated along a 7km sealed path.
Paddle boats that look like giant swans can be rented near Thanh Thuyb Restaurant,and the Dalt Sailing and Fishing Club rents a wide selection of water craft, from kayaks and two person sail boats to electric motor boats. The fishing club has netted off an area of the lake and stocked it with fish; it also rents equipment, and has a per-kilo catch rate, as well as catch and release rules for sport. Shade umbrellas are supplied.
The Dalat Palace Golf Club occupies 50 hectares on the northern side of the lake near the Dalat Flower Gardens. The majestic hill top Hotel Sofitel Dalat Palace overlooks Xuan Huong Lake from the south.
About 500m east of Xuan Huong Lake is a cog-railway station (tel 834409) and although you aren’t likely to arrive in Dalat by train, the station is worth a visit. There is an old Russian steam train on display here.
The Cremaillere linked Dalat and Thap Cham from 1928 to 1964, when it was closed because of VC attacks. The line has been partially repaired and is now operated as a tourist attraction. You can’t get to any where usefull (like HCMC) on this train, but you can ride 8km (30 minutes) down the tracks to Trai Mat village and back again.
Departures are at 8am, 9.30am, 2pm and 3.30pm; and the return trip costs US$5.
Once in Trai Mat, most travellers make a requisite stroll over to visit the ornate Linh Phuoc Pagoda. This clourful pagoda was originally built between 1949 and 1952, and recent renovations included the installation of an 8 ½ tonne bell (cast in 1999) in a seven tiered tower. You must remove your shoes when enteringthe main temple building, where an amusement park dragon guards the gate. Once inside, visitors are greeted by a 5m high Buddha statue seated under a Bodhi Tree painting – this Buddha even sports a five ringed neon halo! The statue is flanked by Pho Hien riding an elephant, and Van Thu riding a tiger. From the ground floor, take the left hand staircase up to the 2nd level balcony area for great views! In a small room here another Buddha statue with multiple heads ans arms sits surrounded by 108 Bodhisattvas painted on the wall.
Lam Dong Museum
This hill top museum (tel 822339; 4 Đ Hung Vuong; admission 10,000d; open 7.30am-11.30am & 1.30pm-4.30pm Tue-Sat) displays stone artefacts and pottery excavated from an ancient Oc-Eo archaeological site, costumes and musical instruments of local ethnic minorities, and displays relating to the struggles against the French and American.
The museum is housed in a lovely French style villa, once the abode of Nguyen Huu Hao, father of Empress Nam Phuong, Bao Dai’s wife. Nguyen Huu Hao, who died in 1939, was the richest person in the Go Cong district of the Mekong Delta. His tomb lies on a hilltop near Dalat, 400m west of Cam Ly falls. Walk around the valleyside of the villa to discover an interesting fusion of Chinese style longevity symbols on the side of building.
Hang Nga Guesthouse & Art Gallary
Nicknamed the “Crazy House” by locals, this guesthouse, cafe and art gallary (TelL 822070. 3 Huynh Thuc Khang, admission 5000d,) is about 1 km southwest of Xuan Huong Lake. The architecture is someghing straight out of alice in wonderland and cannot easily be described; there are caves, aiant spider webs made of wire, concrete “tree trunks” a nude female statue ( a rarity in Vietnam ), a concrete giraffe ( with a tearoom built inside) and so on. Yes it’s tacky, and exceedingly commercialised, but many are astounded to find such a countercultural constrauction Dalat.
The gallery’s designer, Mrs Dang Viet Nga, is from Hanoi and lived in moscow 14years, where she earned a phD in architecture. She dresses in pure 1960s hippiegarb, burns incense and has something of an air of mystery about her. Hang Nga has designed a number of other buildings. which dot the landscape around Dalat, including the Children’s Cultural Palace and the Catholic church in Lien Khuong.
The Dalat people’s Committee has not always appreciated such innovative designs. An earlier Dalat architectural masterpiece the “House with 100roofs’, was torn down as a “fire hazard” because the People’s Committee thought it looked “ antisocialist” However, there is little chance that Hang Nga will have such trouble with the authorities – her father, Truong Chinh, was Ho Chi Minh’s successor. He served as Vietnam’s second president from 1981 until his death in 1988.
All this said, there have been a large number of negative reports recently, and we received a shockingly rude reception on our last visit here. If you feel like you have to see this place, you might just do a drive-by and sneak a peek inside from the gate. Rather thann cough up the entry fee, however, we recommend spending your time and money elsewhere. Hove a cooffee at the delightful Stop & Ga Cafe ( see under Cafes later in this section), an old Dalat institution that is still – thousands of tourists later- as pleasant as ever to visit.
Governor – General’s Residence.
Build in 1993, the French Governor-General’s Residence ( Dinh Toan Quyen or Dinh 2, Trang Hung Dao – Tel 822092) Is a degnigied building of modernist design. It is today used as a guesthouse and for official receptions, and the original style of furnishing has been retained in most of its 25 rooms. At the time of writing it was closed to the public, and plans for renovation were in the works ( inquired locally)
The Gavernor- General’s Residence is about 2km east of the centre of town, up the hill from the intersection of Tran Hung Dao str and Khoi Nghia Bac Son.
Bao Dai’s Summer Palace.
Emperor Bao Dai’s Summer Palace ( Biet Dien Quoc Truong or Dinh 3. admission 5000d, open 7am – 11 am & 1.30 pm – 4pm) is a 25 room villa constructed in 1933. The decor has not chaned in decades, except for the addition of Ho Chi Minh’s Portrait over the fireplace, but the palace is filled with artefacts from decates and governments past and is extremely intesting.
For instance, the engraved – glass map of Vietnam was given to Emperor Bao Dai in 1942 by Vietnamese students in France.
In Bao Dai’s office, the life sized white bust above the bookcase is of Bao Dai himself; the smaller gold and brown busts are of his fatherm Emperor Khai Dinh. Note the heavy brass royal seal and the fireplace are of Bao Dai, his eldest son, Bao Long and Empress Nam Phuong, who died in 1963.
Upstair are the royal living quarters. The room of Bao Long, who now lives in England, is decorated in yellow, the royal colour. The huge semicircular couch was used by the emperor and empress for family meetings, during which their three doughters wer seated in the yellow chairs and their two sons in the pink chairs. Check out the ancient tan Rouathermique infrared souna machine near the top of the stairs.
Bao Dai’s Summer Palace is set in a pine grove 500m southeast of th ePasteur Institute, which is on Le Hong Phong str. 2km southwest of the city centre. The palace is open to the public and shoes must be removed at the door. There is an extra charge for cameras and videos.
Dalat Flower Gardens
There beaufiful gardens ( Vuon Hoa Dalat: Tel 822151, Phu Dong Thien Vuong str, admission 4000d; open 7:30 am – 4pm daily) were established in 1966 by the south Vietnemese Agricultural Service, renovated in 1985, and have been greatly refuned in recent years.
Flowers here include hydrangeas, fuchsias and orchids ( Hoa Lan). Most of the latter are in special shaded buildings to the right of the entrance. The orchids are grown in blocks of coconut-palm trunk and in terracotta pots with lots of ventilation holes.
Hasfarm, a local Dutch – Run nursery, has chipped in with some displays. All in all, it;s a very nice and well-kept cross section of Dalat foliage. The plants still have a lot of space in which to grow, and before long they may be calling it a botanic garden. Travellers have described them as “a marvel”
A few monkeys live in cages on the grounds of the Dalat Flower Gardens, and a warning to any feeble-minded tourists who might enjoy tormenting the monkeys by throwing things – these clever monkeys have learned to throw back.
near the gate you can buy cu ly, which are reddish – brown animal shaped pieces of frern stems, whose fibres are used to stop bleeding in traditional medicine. Plants and flowers are also for sale.
The Dalat Flower Gardens front Xuan Huong Lake, on the road that leads from the lake to Dalat University.
Dalat is actually something of an education centre. The reason for this is its climate; before air-con, it was one of the few places in Vietnam where it was possibly to study without working up a sweat. Therefore, a number of educational institutions were located intown. with Dalat University ( Phu Dong Thien Vuongstr.) being the most famous.
Dalat University was founded as a Catholic university in 1057 by Hue Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc, the older brother of president Ngo Dinh Diem ( assassinated in 1963), with the help of Cardinal Spelman of new york, The University was seized from the church in 1975 and closed, but it reopened two years later as a state – run institution.
There are presently more than 12,000 students studying here, although they all live in offf-campus boarding hourse. The university library contains 10.000 books. including some in English and European languages.
The 38 – hectare campus can easily be identified by the triangular tower topped by a red star, which was stuck over the cross originally erected by the church. The fact that the cross was never actually removed has led some to speculate that the church may some day get the campus returned to it.
Foreign visitors are generally welcome to visit the campus.
Valley of Love
Named the Valley of peace by Emperor Bao Dai, this area (Thung Lung Tinh Yeu) has its name change in 1972 ( by the Da Thien Lake was created) by romantically minded students from Dalat University.
Today this ever – tacky place has taken on a carnival atmosphere and now local tour guides call it the Valley of Shops! Tourist buses line up to regurgitate visitors and boats line up to accommodate them. Get into the spirit with some aquatic activities paddle boats, 15 – person canoes and obnoxious noise – making motorboats can be hired to tour the lake.
This is a good place to see the Dalat Cowboys’. Vietnamese guides dressed as American cowboys-come back in another year and they’ll have the Montagnards dressed up as Indians. We’ve alsoseen locals dressed as bears’ can Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck costumes be far behind? The cowboys and bears expect cash if you take their picture – they want about 50.000d per photo.
Refreshments and local delicacies ( Such as jams and candied fruits) are on sale at the lookout near where the buses disgorge tourists.
The Valley of love is 5km north of Xuan Huong Lake.
Pagoda & Churches
Lam Ty Ni Pagoda: This pagoda (Quan Am Tu; 2 Thien My str.) was founded in 1961 the decorative front gate was constructed by the pagoda’s only monk, Vien Thuc, an industrious man who learned English, French Khmer and Thai at Dalat University. During his time here, he has built flowerbeds and gardens in several different styles, including a miniature Japanese garden complete with a bridge. Nearby are trellis shaded paths decorated with hanging plants. Signs list the Chinese nam of each garden. Vien Thuc also built mich of the pagoda’s wooden furniture.
But more than the pagoda and its gardens the attraction here is Mr Thuc himself and his mind-boggling collection of self-brushed art works. It would be a gross understatment to call him prolific. By his own estimates he has churned out more than 100,000 works of art, piles and piles of which hang in and around the pagoda – even out in the rain!
So industrious is this eccentric local celebrity, that since he began selling his paintings to tourists he has become, some say, the wealthiest person in Dalat. Judging by the astounding number of “instant paintings” he sells, you could believe it. The onetime hermit monk has today earned himself the esteemed title of “ the Business monk” by local motorbike guides ( many of whom resent his financial success, not to mention having to wait for hours, while their customers linger at the pagoda).
Paitings sell anywhere from a dollar or two to whatever smooth-talking Mr Thuc can take you for. These days the monk is saving those dollars while waiting for his long awaited around the globe journey. His plans include visiting travellers who have been to see him ( and the homes where his paintings hang).
Mr Thuc’s status has already made him the subject of much romour and myth. Not long ago we received a sorrowful letter to inform us of his untimely death – he got a good chuckle out of this one! Commercial or not, he is certainly a interesting man and provides a most unusual encounter. Be aware that the monk’s popularity has sailed to such heights that there days there is a steady stream of visitors at the pagoda, so many that he often needs to lock the pagoda gate just to have time to eat.
Lam Ty Ni Pagoda is about 500m north of the Pasteur Institute. A visit here can easily be combined with a stop at bao Dai’s Summer palace.
Linh Son Pagoda built in 1938, this pagoda ( Chua Linh Son, 120 Nguyen Van Troi str) is a lovely ochre-coloured building that fuses French and Chinese architecture. The giant bell is said to be made of bronze mixed with gold, its great weight making it too heavy for thieves to carry off. Behind the pagoda are coffee and tea plants tended by 20 monks, who range in age from 20 to 80 and half a dozen novices.
Linh Son Pagoda is about 1km from the town centre, near the corner of D Phan Dinh Phung str. The sign on the front gate reads “ Phat Giao Vietnam” ( Vietnam Buddhist Association).
Next to the Novotel Dalatm this cathedral ( Tran Phu str) was build between 1931 and 1942 for use by french residents and holiday-markets. The cross on the spire is 47m above the ground. Inside, the stained glass windows bring a hint of medieval Europe to Dalat. The first church built on this site ( in the 1920s) is to the left of the Cathedral; it has a light blue arched door.
There are three priests here, and masses are held daily.
Vietnamese Evangelical Church
Dalat’s pink Evangelical Church ( 72 Nguyen Van Troi str). The main Protestant church in the city, was built in 1940. Until 1975, it was affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
Since reunification, Vietnam’s Protestants have been persecuted even more than the Catholics, in part because many Protestant clergymen were trained by US missionaries. Although religious activities at this church are still restricted by the gavernment, Sunday is a busy day with Bidle study, worship and a youth service.
Most of the 25.000 Protestants in Lam Dong Province, who are served by more than 100 churches, are hill tribe people. Dalat’s Vietnamese Evagelical Church is one of only six churches in the province whose membership is ethnic Vietnamese.
The Vietnamese Evangelical Church is 300m north of Rap ¾.
Domaine de Marie Convent The pink tile-roofed structures of the hill top Domaine de Marie Convent, constructed between 1940 and 1942, were once home to 300 nuns. Today, the remaining nuns support themselves by making ginger candies and selling the fruit grown in the orchard out the back.
Suzanne Humbert, wife of admiral Jean Decoux ( French Governor – General of Indochina from 1940 to 1945) is buried at the base of the outside back wall of the chapel. A benefactor of the chapel, she was killed in a car accident in 1944.
The French speaking nuns are please to show visitors around and explain the work they do for orphans, the homeless and handicapped children. The shop sells handicrafts made by the children and nuns.
Masses are held in the large chapel Monday to Friday and on Sunday.
Du Sinh Church This church was built in 1955 by Catholic refugees from the north. The four- post, Sino-Vietnamese steeple was constructed at the insistence of a Hue born priest of royal lineage. The church is on a hilltop with beautiful views in all directions, making this a great place for a picnic.
To get to Du Sinh Church, walk 500m southwest along Đ Huyen Tran Cong Chua from the former Couvent des Oiseaux, which is now a teachers’ training high school.
Thien Vuogn Pagoda This pagoda (Chua Tau or Chinese pagoda; Đ Khe Sanh) is popular with domestic tourists, espeacially ethnic Chinese. Set on a hilltop amid pine trees, the pagoda was built by the Chaozhou Chinese Congregation. Tho Da, the monk who initiated the construction of the pagoda in 1958, emigrated to the USA; there are pictures of his 1988 visit on display. The stalls out the front are a good place to buy local candied fruit and preserves.
The pagoda itself consists of three yellow buildings made of wood. In the first building is gilded, wooden statue of Ho Phap, one of the Buddha’s protectors. On the other side of the glass case is a gilded wooden statue Pho Hien, a helper of A Di Da Buddha (Buddha of the Past). Remove your shoes before entering the third building, in which there are three 4m high standing Buddhas, donated by a British Buddhist and brought from Hong Kong in 1960. Made of gilded sandalwood and weighing 1400kgeach, the figures (which is said to be the largest sandalwood statues in Vietnam) represent Thich Ca Buddha (the historical Buddha Sakyamuni; in the centre); Quan The Am Bo Tat (Avalokitecvara, the Goddess od Mercy; on the right); and Dai The Chi Bo Tat (an assisstant of A Di Da; on the left).
Thien Vuong Pagoda is about 5km southeast of the centre of town.
Minh Nguyet Cu Sy Lam Pagoda A second Chinese Buddhist pagoda, Minh Nguyet Cu SY Lam Pagoda is reached by a path beginning across the road from the gate of Thien Vuong pagoda. It was built by the Cantonese Chinese Congregation in 1962. The main sanctuary of the pagoda is around structure constructed on a platform representing a lotus blossom.
Inside the pagoda (remove shoes before entering) is a painted cement statue of Quan The Am Bo Tat flanked by two other figures. Notice the repetition of the lotus motif in the window bars, railing and gateposts. There is a giant, red, gourd shaped incense burning oven near the main sanctuary.
Su Nu Pagoda Built in 1952, this pagoda (Chua Linh Phong; 72 Đ Hoang Hoa Tham) is a Buddhist nunnery. The nuns here – who in accordance with Buddhist regulations are bald – weargrey or brown robes, except when praying, at which time they wear saffron attire. Men are allowed to visit, but only women live here. The nunnery is open all day, but it is considered impolite to come around lunch time, when the nuns sing their prayers a cappella before eating. Across the driveaway from the main buildings, and set among tea plants, is the grave marker of head nun Thich Nu Dieu Huong.
Su Nu Pagoda is about 1km south of Đ Le Thai To
Nature lovers looking for their outdoor adventure fix should check out the activities offered by Dalat Hodiday (tel 829422, fax 821122; [email protected]; 73 Đ Truong Cong Dinh; open 7.30am-8.30pm daily). Unlike many operators in Vietnam, who cluelessly throw the terms “eco” and “environment” around for the sake of profit, these folks take the term ecotourism seriously. Dalat Holiday employs knowledgeable English and French speaking guides, all of whom are Red Cross certified.
It offers canyoning, abseiling and treks to the minority villages in the mountains day low impact hikes to multiday nature outings to national parks. Dalat Holidays also offers technical rock climbing and mountain biking. Trips range in price from US$10-100.
Hardy Dalat (tel 836840, [email protected]; 133 Đ Phan Dinh Phung) is another contender in the adventure tour game.
Action Max (0913929137; [email protected]), based in HCMC, runs occasional tem building outdoor trips to Dalat.
Working in conjuntion with Dalat Holidays, Phat Tire Ventures (tel 829422; [email protected]; www.phattireventures.com; 73 Đ Truong Cong Dinh) is an ass-kicking mountain-bike outfit that guides praiseworthy “fat tire” tours of the Dalat area. Phat Tire is headed up by a pair of hip American mountain bikers, Kim and Brian, who mantain d fleet of high quality imported mountain bikes, as well as rappelling equipment from Europe and the US. They offer a wide range of two wheeled adventures around Dalat, or you mightd even consider biking with them all the way to the coast, 120km downhill to the sand dunes at Mui Ne Beach.
The Dalat Palace Golf Club (tel 821201, fax 824325; [email protected]; Đ Phu Dong Thie Vuong), established in 1922, was once used by Bao Dai, the last Vietnamese emperor. Visitors can play 18-hole round here for US$65, but the more affordable “twilight gold specials” practically make golfing an option for budget travellers! These rates are just US$35 after 2.30pm, or US$25 after 3.30pm, including play until sundown, caddie fees, rental clubs, rental shoes and six used golf balls.
Happy hour at the club house is from 4pm to 7pm and worth checking out just for the guacamole and home-baked torilla chips!
To lure the customers to Dalat, very reasonably priced golf package tours are available if you book from HCMC. Per golfer deals are as inexpensice as US$62/70 on a weekday/weekend, including a round of golf, a night at the elegant Novotel Dalat and breakfast. Tack on around US430 to these rates and you can upgrade to the Sofitel Dalat Palace.
For information, contact the golf club’s HCMC marketing office (08-9101457, fax 9101458; [email protected]; www.vietnamgolfresorts.com).
Places to Stay
Phuong Thanh Hotel (tel 825097; 65 Đ Truong Cong Dinh; singles US43-4, doubles US$5-6, triples&quard US$10) is a friendly attractive villa style place with wooden floors. The cheapest rooms are in the basement.
Next door is another attractive villa, Peace Hotel II (tel 822982, fax836153; [email protected]; 67 Đ Truong Cong Dinh; singles/doubles US$5/7), but rooms are on the small side. Peace Hotel (Khach san Hoa Binh; tel 822787; [email protected]; 64 Đ Truong Cong Dinh) is a long time favourite with backpakers and charges similar rates.
Cam Do Hotel (tel 822482, fax 830273; 81 Đ Phan Dinh Phung; dorm beds US$3, singles5-8, doubles US$8-12) is another backpackers special.
Highland Hotel (tel 823738, fax 832275; 90 Đ Phan Dinh Phung; singles US$4, doubles US$5-6) is rather than run-down budget choice near the city centre.
Phu Hoa Hotel (tel 822194, fax 833956; 16 Đ Tang Bat Ho; singles US$4-5, doubles US$7-12) is also old, but still reasonably pleasant and in the centre.
Minosa Hotel (tel 822656, fax 832275; 170 Đ Phan Dinh Phung; singles US$6-8, twins US$8-12) is another old Dalat budget institution, but slightly away from the centre.
Lam Son Hotel (tel 822362, fax 833956, 5 Đ Hai Thuong; rooms US$10-15) is 500m west of the centre of town in an lod French villa. This large, quite place is decent value if you don’t mind the 10 minute walk to the town centre. The attached Sapa Restaurant does good barbecued ribs.
Lyla Hotel (tel 834540, fax 835940; [email protected]; 18A Đ Nguyen Chi Thanh; rooms 200,000-300,000d) is a stylish place with an in house restaurant serving Vietnamese nad European fare.
A Chau Hotel (tel 823974; 13 Đ Tang Bat Ho; doubles/triples US$10/15) is centrally located and modelled after a Swiss chalet, with big airy rooms.
Dreams Hotel (tel 833748, fax 837108; [email protected]; 151 Đ Phan Dinh Phung; single rooms US$8, doubles US$10-12) has received a steady stream of good reports and wins hands down when it comes to value for dollar. This friendly place offers tidy rooms (some with balconies) and Internet access; musical instruments (in the lobby) are available for use, and breakfast is included. It even accepts credit cards.
Hotel Chau Au Europa (tel 822870, fax 824488; [email protected]; 76 Đ Nguyen Chi Thanh ; rooms US$10-15) is another friendly, family-run place. The in house restaurant is also good.
There is a camping site on the park like grounds of the peaceful Stop & Go cafe (tel 828458; 2A Đ Ly Tu Trong). At the time of writting, plans were in the works for bungalows.
Places to Stay – Mid Range
Ngoc Lan Hotel (tel 822136, fax 824032; [email protected]; 42 Đ Nguyen Chi Thanh; rooms US$15-30) is a big ols place overlooking the lake. Rooms with views start at US$25. All rates include breakfast.
Dai Loi Hotel (Fortune Hotel; tel 837333, fax 837474; 3A Đ Bui Thi Xuan; rooms US$14-25) is one of the newest hotels in Dalat. Rooms are spacious and comfortable.
Golf 3 Hotel (tel 826042, fax 830396; [email protected]; www.vietnamgolfhotel.com; 4 Đ Nguyen Thi Minh Khai; rooms US$35-70) is centrally located property and the rooftop cafe commands great views Dalat. The steam bath facilities are the best in town. This is the best of the three Golf Hotels in Dalat, the others being Golf 1 Hotel and Golf 2 Hotel.
Empress Hotel (tel 833888, fax 829399; [email protected]; 5 Đ Nguyen Thai Hoc; rooms US$60-80, suites US$110-190) is an elegant hotel set on Xuan Huong Lake – the views are great. This hotel has some of the most beautiful rooms in Dalat and discounts can usually be negotiated. Rates include a buffet breakfast.
Villa Hotel 28 Tran Hung Dao (tel 822764, fax 835639; 28 Đ Tran Hung Dao; rooms US$20, annexe rooms US$15) is a charming place resembling a British country inn. Rooms feature wooden trim and brickfloors. The “family room” has a fireplace and can sleep up to six (US$5 per person).
Minh Tam Villas (tel 822447, fax 824420; 20A Đ Khe Sanh; twins US$18, cottages US$15) is 3km out of town, set amid lovely flower gardens (admission nonguest 4000d). There are good views of the surrounding landscape from here. The house originally belonged to a French architect, who sold it to a well to do Vietnamese family in 1954. It underwent several major renovations and in 1975 was “donated” to the victorious communist government. There are rooms available in the main house, and cosy A-frame cottages; both, however, are looking a bit worse for the wear.
Places to Stay – Top End
Hotel Sofitel Dalat Palace (tel 825444, fax 825666; [email protected]; www.sofitel.com; 12 Đ Tran Phu; rooms US$149-414) is a grand old place built between 1916 and 1922. Major renovation work has turned this into Dalat’s premier luxury accommodation:panoramic views of Xuan Huong Lake can be enjoyed in the expensive ground floor public areas, where one can sit in a rattan chair, sip tea or soda and gaze out through a wall of windows. The nearby tennis courts are owned by the hotel.
Novotel Dalat (tel 825777, fax 825888; 7 Đ Tran Phu; rooms US$99-189), another vintage hotel, is a large place nearly opposite the Sofitel. It was constructed in 1932 as the Du Parc Hotel and has undergone extensive renovation work. Today it too retains much of the original French colonial air.
Discounted rates can usually be negotiated at both of these gloriuos hotels. If you golf, it’s well worth looking into their reasonably priced package deals.
Palces to Eat – Local Specialities
Dalat is a paradise for lovers of fresh garden vegetables, which are grown locally and sold all over the south. The abundance of just picked peas, carrots, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, green peppers, lettuce, Chinese cabbages, bean sprouts, beets, green bean, potatoes, corn, bamboo shoots, garlic, spinach, squash and yams makes for meals unavailable elsewhere in the country.
The Dalat area is justifiably famous for its strawberry jam, dried blackcurrants and candied plums, persimmons and peaches, all of which can be purchased from food stalls in the market area just west of the lake. Other local delicacies include avocado ice cream, sweet beans (mut dao) and strawberry, blackberry and strawberry and artichoke extract is great in tea. The region also produces grape, mulberry and strawberry wines. Vang Dalat, a brand of local wine, is not bad tasting and it’s cheap at around 45,000d a bottle. Artichoke tea, another local speciality, is made from the root the artichoke plant. Most of these can be purchased at the central market and at stalls in front of Thien Vuong Pagoda.