Da Lat beckons: Now is best time to visit Vietnam’s ‘Little Paris’

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Da Lat beckons: Now is best time to visit Vietnam’s ‘Little Paris’

Da Lat is much loved by its year-round cool climate, green pine forests, misty landscape, and resplendent architectural gems dating back to the colonial era.

Given various nicknames like Little Paris, the city of eternal spring, the city of flowers and the city of love, Da Lat high up in the Central Highlands of Vietnam has gained popularity both as a romantic place for honeymoon couples and an oasis in a country that usually sweats all year round.

The town, situated 1,500 meters above sea level, has repeatedly garnered global attention. The New York Times named Da Lat among the world’s 52 must-visit places in 2016 while TripAdvisor readers ranked it in the top 10 list of rising destinations in Asia.

If you are just starting to plan a holiday to Da Lat during the year-end travel season, here’s the itinerary for a three-day trip that allows you to catch the best of the highland town.

Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

  • Day 1

    Hanoi/HCMC- Da Lat- Rooster Church – Truc Lam Zen Monastery– Tuyen Lam Lake

  • Day 2

    Hang Nga Guesthouse – Golden Valley – Langbiang Mountain – Hell Market 

  • Day 3

    Da Lat Train Station – Linh Phuoc Pagoda – Cau Dat Tea Plantation

Day 1: Rooster Church – Truc Lam Zen Buddhist Temple– Tuyen Lam Lake

For a trip-around-town, make your way to the Saint Nicolas Cathedral, one of the oldest and most beautiful architectural works left by the French that lies on Tran Phu Street around a kilometer from downtown Da Lat.

Built between 1931 and 1942, it is considered the largest church in Da Lat and a convergence point for Catholics living in the Central Highlands.

One of the most impressive features of the church is the rooster statue on top of the 47-meter bell tower which has earned it the nickname “rooster church.”

Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

From the church, head north for five kilometers and you will reach Truc Lam Zen Buddhist temple, the largest temple in Vietnam, lying at the foot of Phung Hoang Mountain and the edge of Tuyen Lam Lake.

Pass through the gate and be rewarded with a calm and tranquil atmosphere.

The temple evokes the spirit of Zen Buddhism practiced under the Tran Dynasty, which ruled the country from 1225 CE to 1400 CE. The tradition was initiated by King Tran Nhan Tong, the third king of the Tran Dynasty, who abdicated the throne when he was 35 and spent the rest of his life on Yen Tu Mountain and founded the Truc Lam Zen.

A visit to Da Lat will be incomplete without a stop at Tuyen Lam Lake, one of the most beautiful in Vietnam and one whose raw beauty has yet to be undermined by tourist hordes.

 

Tuyen Lam Lake in Da Lat City. Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

No one knows for sure when and why the lake was named Tuyen Lam, but many think Tuyen stands for stream and Lam for forest. Tuyen Lam is this a place where water and trees meet.

The magnificent scenery around the 3.2-square-kilometer lake, comprising mountains and vast pine forests, is much admired. If viewed from the cable car above, Tuyen Lam Lake looks like a miniature ocean with its own continents. 

You can hire a boat for VND300,000 ($12.85) for a group of six to take a sightseeing tour around the lake.

If you go into the pine forests for camping overnight, you can also get a chance to discover the customs and traditions of the K’ho ethnic minority people, who live in small stilt houses built on mountain slopes. At night the sound of gongs invites you to join young K’ho men and women dancing around a fire.

Day 2: Hang Nga Guesthouse – Golden Valley – Langbiang Mountain – Hell Market

Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

Situated around one kilometer from Da Lat, the guesthouse opened in 1990, and has been compared to the amazing architecture of world-acclaimed constructions such as the Salvador Dalí Museum and Walt Disney Concert Hall.

U.K. travel magazine Lonely Planet last April listed the bizarre building, dubbed the “Crazy House”, among the 120 most breathtaking human constructions on Earth.

Once forgotten, it has now emerged as one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, and visitors have to pay VND50,000 ($2.20) for an entrance ticket to sate their curiosity.

From ‘Crazy House’, travel 30 kilometers to reach Golden Valley. Continue riding your motorbike until you reach the so-called pink grass fields and enjoy the scenery, which is best at sunset and sunrise.

Pink muhly grass is relatively common in China and North America but extremely rare in Vietnam. Not surprisingly, the hill constantly attracts photographers and nature lovers.

The blooming season starts in September and November and December are the best months to visit.

Before conquering the peak of Langbiang Mountain at a height of 2,167 meters above sea level, find a restaurant to fill your stomach and take a break as the trip could be tiring.

Take a jeep ride to the peak of Rada hill at a height of 1,929 meters for a panoramic view of Da Lat in the mist and listen to the touching love story of a couple named Lang and Biang.

The cost of a jeep ride ranges from VND100,000 to VND120,000 for a group of four and a one-way trip takes you 15 minutes.

Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

It is a thrilling and unforgettable experience for young people to conquer the two highest peaks in the Langbiang plateau, the 2,124-meter Ong Mountain and 2,167-meter Ba.

Don’t miss a chance to experience a cozy family meal with the Lach ethnic people at the foot of Langbiang Mountain and learn about their daily lives and spiritual values.

At night return to Da Lat and go for a walk around the night market, dubbed “Hell Market,” a unique destination that can be hardly found anywhere else in Vietnam.

Visitors can find random shirts and warm clothes at the market, but it’s really a place for foodies with a wide choice on the menu such as warm fresh soymilk and artichoke tea, sweet tofu in ginger sauce, grilled scallops, chicken porridge, steamed corn and banh trang nuong (grilled rice paper).

Day 3: Da Lat Train Station – Linh Phuoc Pagoda – Cau Dat Tea Plantation

Begin the last day of your trip at one of the most popular destinations in the highlands town: Da Lat Railway Station.

The station was built by French architects in 1932. When it opened in 1938, the station was part of the Thap Cham – Da Lat railway line, running from the former coastal Champa Kingdom in Ninh Thuan to Da Lat.

It has been crowned as the oldest and most beautiful railway station in Indochina with a touch of unique French architecture. 

But after French troops withdrew from Vietnam in 1954, people stopped using the trains and the tracks were dismantled by people looking to sell scrap metal.

But a section of the track, for a short distance of seven kilometers, has been relaid and trains are operating from Da Lat to Trai Mat to take visitors to Linh Phuoc Pagoda.

Photo by Tuan Dao

Linh Phuoc Pagoda, situated around seven kilometers to the west of the station, piques the curiosity of visitors, especially foreigners, with its colorful appearance made up of tens of thousands of pieces of porcelain. Though the materials used are scrap, the craftsmanship on display is indubitable.

Don’t forget to drop by Cau Dat tea plantation, a 30-minute drive from Linh Phuoc Pagoda and the place where the Vietnamese tea industry originated.

The tea farm has gained fame as a tourist attraction in Da Lat and become the most mentioned on Instagram, the world’s largest photo sharing network, after many young people take photos here and share them on social media.

Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

Here is a preview for the must-try food tour in Da Lat. 

Banh can on Tang Bat Ho Street

It is said that no one leaves Da Lat without having tasted banh can. Situated at the end of the steep Tang Bat Ho, the place has been serving the treat with only two options, quail egg and duck egg, for over 15 years.

Banh uot and chicken guts on Tang Bat Ho Street

Trang’s has been treating its customers to the famous banh uot for three generations. The dish is a combination of banh uot (literally wet cake) and chicken meat and guts, eaten with a well-seasoned dipping sauce.

Tile Grilling on Nguyen Luong Bang Street

This specialty dish is cooked over hot coals, not on the usual iron grill but a clay tile.

The grilled items include seasoned pork, beef, seafood, and game meats usually accompanied by a mixed salad. It is not a bad idea to spend a rainy day with fresh vegetables, meat roasting over a fire and a bottle of wine. You can find this grill restaurant on Nguyen Luong Bang street.

Grilled pork roll on Phan Dinh Phung Street

Grilled pork roll in Da Lat is made by folding minced pork around a bamboo stick. After it is grilled, it is rolled in rice paper with pickles and herbs. The most essential thing again is the dipping sauce, a special mixture created from pig liver, shrimp, pork, and ground bean paste.

Tasty, greasy and crispy grilled pork roll is a wonderful treat when the weather turns cold in Da Lat. You can find several grilled pork shops on Phan Dinh Phung Street.

 

The town has been a holiday paradise in Vietnam for years and is always packed during the holidays and high travel season. Therefore, accommodation services are well developed.  

You can opt for hotels near the downtown area and Da Lat night market, which makes transportation convenient. Prices range from VND150,000 to VND250,000 per night.

Homestays are also worth considering. You can choose from Jang & Min’s house, The Barn Home Farm, Moonrise Garden Dalat, and Dalat Lacasa Homestay II. Prices range from VND70,000 ($3) to VND300,000 ($12.85) per night.

From Hanoi and Saigon, the best way to reach Da Lat, which is best enjoyed during the year-end flower blossom season, is by flight.

Vietnam Airlines and Vietjet Air have direct flights to Da Lat every day. Return tickets cost around VND1.1 million ($47) from HCMC and VND2.4 million ($103) from Hanoi.

Lien Khuong International Airport is around 40 kilometers from the town. You can take a shuttle bus from the airport or take a cab to reach Da Lat.

Those looking for cheaper options can hop on a sleeper coach from HCMC that takes around eight hours and costs VND220,000 ($9.42).

– It’s best to travel to Da Lat in October when wild sunflowers are in full bloom them, weaving a yellow carpet along streets.

– Remember to take warm clothes though since the weather could get quite, especially at night, with temperatures from 19 to 21 degrees Celsius (66-69 degrees Fahrenheit).  

– It is better that you book a hotel room in the downtown area of Da Lat before arriving. But in case you cannot find any hotel room, a homestay is not a bad choice.

– Tourists can get ripped off when buying local specialties, so beware

Photo by Shutterstock/Vietnam Stock Images

Story by Nguyen Quy

Video contributed by Nhung Nguyen 

Photos by Phong Vinh