We drove up from Mui Ne to Dalat – beginning at the coast with hot and humid temperatures passing by fields of dragon fruit plants. As we drove we began to climb into the mountains, leaving the dragon fruit farms behind, replaced by coffee trees growing on steep hillsides.
It is refreshing to be in the mountains with the cleaner air and crystal clear skies. We arrived during the week of Tet, the Vietnamese and Chinese New Year and the city was decorated in flowers – cuttings of peach and nectarine trees were standing in buckets of water on the sidewalks – their blooms a spray of color against the dirty concrete.
I stayed at the Dalat Boutique Hotel, a fairly new property with good sized rooms, very clean – for under $20 a night. A basic breakfast was served on the rooftop – offering excellent views of the city.
While wandering the streets of Dalat, I spotted a sign offering tours. Good timing as I wanted a local to show me around. I met Hung Nguyen, who built the Dan Chi hotel in 2012 (29 Le Dao Hang Street), a small property with only 5 rooms. Hung began offering tours that same year introducing Dalat and its surroundings to visitors. He speaks English fairly well and I was able to customize the itinerary with his input (he can be reached at: 09 8349 1229) – Vietnam country code: +84.
A FEW HIGHLIGHTS:
Dalat Railway Station. Like a relic from the past, this railway station opened in 1938 and was later abandoned from the mid 1970s through to the 1990s. It has been wonderfully restored and and now offers several train rides daily between between the station and the village of Trai Mat on the 7km of track. Trait Mat is known for its flower and vegetable farms (although these day, these are mostly grown in greenhouses) and the beautiful Linh Phuoc Pagoda – see our notes and photos below). Each one-way trip lasts about 45 minutes. This is one of the few narrow gauge tracks left in the world. very popular with tourists – a fun place to linger, looking at the flowers, browsing the garden shop on site or perhaps enjoying a coffee inside one of the old rail cars.
Datanla Waterfall. The locals have figured out how to combine entertaining touristic activities with visiting waterfalls. A fun way to see this waterfall is by taking the roller coaster type ride; one plastic car per person with two levers that when pushed forward accelerates the car beyond belief – dropping your heart somewhere in the distance behind you while your body careens down this tiny track following the contours of the steep hillsides. Be sure to carefully control the brake levers so that you don’t bash into the car in front of you. And purchase a round trip ticket as the way back is steep and long.
Elephant Waterfalls. When something in nature is named after an animal, chances are there is a reason for the name. These falls flow over a large rock which roughly resembles the shape of an elephant (the water flowing over its ‘back’). Located about 30 km from the center of Dalat. The path down to the falls is not for clumsy people – it passes over slippery and somewhat jagged rocks at times – with plenty of crevasses to watch out for. Narrow and very challenging we navigated very slowly. At least a number of hand rails help with the steepest parts. Once at the bottom of the rock trail one has excellent views looking back at the falls. Several adventurous folk were boulder hopping from the bottom of the trail bringing them much closer to the falls.
Me Linh Coffee Garden. Located about a 30 minute drive from Dalat, this coffee and agro tourism farm is located just above the Tanung Dam with picturesque views of both the dam and the hillside coffee plantation. After parking visitors will walk past several coffee trees (most likely loaded with fruits if one visits between October and January), followed by weasel cages – where these animals are fed coffee fruits and then their feces collected to harvest the beans which have passed through their gut. The beans are then used to make the special ‘weasel’ coffee. Piles of these seeds can be seen near their cages. Plenty of various coffees (including the weasel coffee) and other souvenir items are sold in the gift shop. This is a very relaxing place to whittle away an hour or two with friends.
Prenn Waterfall. This is an oasis built around the falls – we opted to walk down the steep trail but one can also raft up to the falls (after a short hike) or see them from the air in small gondola cars. And one can get very intimate with these falls – a paved path circles around the falls with part of the path located directly behind them. Several arts and craft vendors and cafes are located on site. And horse, elephant and ostrich rides (yes you read that correctly, ostrich rides) are also available.
Linh Phuoc Pagoda otherwise known as the Dragon Temple is an incredible display of art and color – the actual dragon is in part made from over 12,000 empty beer bottles! Upstairs in the main pavilion the ‘golden’ statue is covered with thousands of dried flowers. Next door the great hall overwhelms the senses as soon as one walks in immediately attracted to the large statue of Buddha. But look around closely as this room features richly decorated and colorful mosaics.
Truc Lam Phung Hoang Zen Monastery. Located above the shores of the picturesque appropriately titled, Paradise Lake – we came here for some much needed calm and quiet. One’s heart rate immediately drops upon entering the peaceful property – flowers, water, temples and quiet grounds makes an idea place to come for a few hours to enjoy the place or take some time to meditate.
Crazy House – I’ve never been in a more eclectic building. Crazy is an appropriate word – house is not. Its part hotel, part scary elevated walkways – imagination gone wild – still under construction – perhaps a building of this stature will never be finished. And that is a good thing. Admission is low – the experience factor is high. Not small, one can wander the tiny stone paths for an hour or more and still not have completely explored the entire property.
These are just a few of the many attractions in this lovely part of Vietnam. Have you visited Dalat before – any other suggestions?