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  • Writer's pictureSaptadeepa Bandopadhyay

Da Lat: A Bohemian town in the Central Highlands of Vietnam!

Updated: May 16, 2023

It was 6:30 am when we hopped out of our bus. A cool breeze rattled our bones and we were wide awake in no time trying to figure out where next from the Dalat Bus station. We pulled out our winter jackets the moment our luggage was deboarded! Once our clanging bones were undercover, we could concentrate on what was next!


The previous two nights in the noisy, snappy and sweltering city of Saigon in Southern Vietnam were quite unlike this sleepy town of Dalat in the Central Highlands. I wondered what Ayan was thinking! We had our share of arguments while adding Da Lat to our itinerary! The only reason I wanted this place added to our Vietnam itinerary was its cute aesthetics and its untethered French colonial vibes. He wasn't convinced because I could not give him a list of places to tick off in Da Lat (though there are many Things to Do in Dalat lists all over the internet).

Passengers started boarding the shuttles that would take them to the desired locations in Dalat town from the bus depot. We presented our hotel bookings at the depot and signalled for the direction to reach our hotel. After a few minutes, we were directed to one of the shuttles that dropped us right in front of our little grey-painted hotel building.


The owner of Luan's Villa opened the door after we knocked at it and politely asked us to sit at the reception. We were too early for the check-in time, so the owner suggested we stroll around until 10:00 AM. We freshened up a bit, dropped our luggage at the lobby and stepped out to explore what was around.


Morning at the Xuân Hương Lake -

Walking a few steps down the street from Luan's villa, we came across a beautiful lake that morning. There were very few people around as the town was still waking up. We noticed only some early risers jogging and cycling around the lake. We took a stroll through the pavement surrounding the lake and marvelled at the flawlessly manicured green lawns. Besides the local cleaning staff, there were not many people around. An attractive little farmers market was opening up for the day. It displayed grains and veggies in cane baskets, local tribal decor and a little section full of bloomed orchid plants!


We were hungry by the early morning walk. We sat down to have our breakfast in this open-air setup by the lake. We had picked some stuffed bread from Ho Chi Minh City the previous evening before leaving the city. It was almost 8:00 a.m. when this little town was looking lively. People were speeding in their motorbikes or mopeds in all directions around the lake. Local vendors were opening their shops, toddlers were crossing the road in a perfect queue with their teachers leading them. I was loving all the commotion around and could not miss how every corner was bedecked with all things flowery, colourful and juvenile!


I saw this stunning blue orchid plant at this nursery counter of the farmer's market. I had not seen this shade of blue in orchids ever before. Dalat is known as the land of eternal spring for a reason! You will see orchids and succulent sellers all around Dalat.


Killing time before our Hotel Check-in

Google Maps helped us locate a cafe called Xuân Hương Garden Coffee just across the road where we planned to kill some more time. Our tummies were at peace after our lakeside breakie but we wanted to try the Dalat Coffee! The Cafe cum Restaurant was more of an oasis of foliage and blossoms and we chose to sit outdoors!

The warm smiles of the cafe staff eased the language barrier. We looked up the menu and ordered a hot Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. The menu had some cookies and cakes for accompaniments! Cafes in Vietnam are only about their beverages and coffees, you will not find food on their menu. We were served a flavoured tea followed by our coffee. Complementary tea was served in every cafe we visited around Dalat. Though Vietnamese tea is not world-famous, they have an amazing variety of flavoured tea to try from. Some cafes also have self-service teapots on counters that one could sip on before their orders are served.

My strong hot coffee and the rising sun had already warmed me up!


Walking into the local Farmer's Market

Just when we were about to head back to our hotel, we noticed a colourful floral setup under a cloth canopy with some music coming from it! We curiously stepped inside and noticed an extravagant farmer's market setup in it. They were selling local produce from their farms. There were organic vegetables, ornamental garden plants, numerous varieties of orchids, succulents, fresh berries and fruits, mushrooms, homemade pickles, kombucha, jams and gardening tools. Most sellers couldn't speak English but their smiling faces were so welcoming. We enthusiastically checked the fresh organic products. Some English speakers explained to us a few of their goods.

Eventually, we walked back through a quaint residential lane dotted with yellow French quarters, the stunning Dalat Pedagogy College in its distinct French architecture and some beautiful bungalows. There is no denying that walking is the best way to explore a place.


Such aimless walks sometimes get you closer to the essence of a town.


Finally back in our Hotel

We had happily spent quite a lot of time on our slipshod walking adventure.

Back at Luan's villa, Mr Luan had got us a room ready and assured us it had a good view. He was our ever-smiling host who patiently answered our queries even though we handed him Google Translate! :P


After resting, freshening up and ordering a Banh Mi for lunch we set out again. But this time we hire a moped from Mr. Luan. The fun part was getting used to these Vietnamese little mopeds. We were clueless about how much fuel we needed since we didn't know the local fuel rates. Vietnamese drive on the right of the road, unlike the left driving we are used to in India. So, no matter how I dictated the maps, Ayan budged at crossing the road and instead headed straight to take a U-turn. Also, Google Maps are so confusing when you are on serpentine hilly roads.

We didn't have any bucket list in mind, so aimlessly wandering on the streets wasn't a bad idea either.


Dalat Railway Station


We headed to the Dalat Railway station. The Dalat Plateau rail route is historically important for connecting Southern and Northern Vietnam before the American war destroyed most of this route. Only a short 7 km stretch is still functional for tourists to experience travelling the heritage locomotive car run on a steam engine. The French built the Dalat Railway station in 1921 and most of the station building is preserved as a heritage site. However, when we arrived, the ticket counter staff informed us that the next train on the schedule was cancelled. Trains run between Dalat and Trai Mat as per schedule but only if they have a minimum of 20 passengers. Most local tourists were there for photographs as I could see. The colonial train station was however a worthy visit.


Dalat is a hilly terrain covered with pine forests and surrounded by many freshwater artificial lakes, possibly a part of the French colonial impact! So we planned to visit a sunset spot by the late afternoon.

Tuyen Lam Lake

With the map constantly spinning on these spiral roads, we eventually exited the city and headed to the Tuyen Lam Lake. The absolute calm of the lake was an ideal setup to unwind to a sunset view. We got ourselves seated at a cafe just across the beautiful lake overseeing the hills circling it.

We could have gazed at the beautiful horizon for hours. A cup of coffee and a bowl of chicken slow salads were filling accompaniments to the scenery!



As this place was a bit outside the town, we planned to head back to town before it got dark. Roads on the outskirts of Dalat provided some gorgeous views when we drove back. Houses or resorts perched in the hills, stretches of farms and greenhouses, vertical farms growing organic fruits and farmers watering their fields made for an idyllic countryside.


Back in Dalat town by the evening


We parked our moped at Luan's Villa and decided to enjoy the sunset from our balcony room. The bikes were speeding down the roads by early evening. They were all heading home after their workday, we assumed. As the sun set, so did the temperatures dip. I had covered myself in layers. The husband had forgotten his winter jacket or I would say, underestimated December in Vietnam. We walked out in hopes of finding a good winter jacket. So, we first hunted a showroom for good winter wears and also where they agreed to take payment in USDs. We were about to run out of the local currency very soon and Dalat seemed to have fewer or no currency exchange centers. The retail store agreed to return the change in Vietnamese currency. Well, the winterwear purchase helped with the currency woes as well!


Our evening explorations also led us to a beautiful Buddhist temple with an accompanying Japanese garden which we didn't bother to know the name of. Dalat already had our hearts for all that we had seen around the town on our first day here.

We hunted down the Banh Mi centre that we had ordered from in the day and got some more. The USP of this place was that they baked their bread. We loved the taste of these Banh Mis when we ordered them. So our dinners were sorted and we walked back to our hotel!


The moped, the riders and an aimless journey

The next morning we aimlessly stepped out again wanting to see life around Dalat town. I did not want to go around the touristy theme parks that the local tourists had been going gaga on the internet about. Many have popped up in recent years.

We had known that Dalat had its French colonial heritage and architecture intact because the war with America had not hit this town. We wanted to see what the older architectural remains looked like.


Dalat Cathedral (St. Nicholas Cathedral)

We had arrived in Dalat during the Christmas week and what better way to start exploring a colonial town than visiting a church? So, we started our day at this Cathedral whose construction started around 1931. Funnily though, it is locally known as Nhà Thờ Con Gà (which translates to the chicken church). This is because a rooster is perched above the main building of the cathedral. It is a beautiful Romanesque architecture with distinct wooden doors and stained glass windows with biblical scenes.


Behind the church, we could see Dalat's town and its residential buildings with slanting roofs. Seeing Dalat from a height made us wonder if we were in Vietnam or some European countryside.

The cathedral was decorated for Christmas with little figurines depicting stories of the birth of Jesus Christ. The doors of the main building were closed when we arrived. Nonetheless, we were elated to see some kindergarten kids practising for a Christmas day performance. Little kids were out of sync yet fun to watch.



Exiting the church, we noticed some more French architecture buildings like a shopping arcade and the famed Hotel Du Parc.


Tiệm cà phê Cheo veooo


As cliche, as it may sound, I was intrigued to explore the cuteness quotient of Dalat's many cafes which Instagram kept recommending to me. Cafes in this town meant completely opposite to what the cafe culture in modern cities looks like today. Plainly put, they were just neighbourhood coffee shops with decent seating arrangements and are flocked by the younger generation to have some quality time with friends or lovers. Cafes are strictly for coffee and one would not get any choices for food at the cafes.

So what was special you may ask! It is how a simple decor made of distressed wood, recycled doors, windows and rustic interiors with beautiful plants and flowers is all it took to make a Cafe so appealing. I was bowled by the simplicity of these places. There was no Starbucks kind of branding, nor an airconditioned building, nor branding on its ceramics.


Cafe Cheo veooo was this simple sit-out, away from the main town of Dalat amidst the endless views of the valleys and cliffs with clouds floating. We spent a good time just observing the beauty of a simple cafe with a perfect view. Iced teas are all that we had.


We hunted for some lunch place and chanced upon an amazing vegan food joint serving all things homemade! It was a wholesome meal the two of us enjoyed.


Bao Dai Summer Palace

Post lunch we decided to visit the summer palace of the last King of Vietnam, Bao Dai. It is yet another French architectural building of the 1930s. Though the royal family does not reside here anymore, it is open to the tourists on payment of an entry fee! The palace has been well-styled in the interiors. The living and office space is on the ground floor and the family's bedrooms are on the first floor. The palace visit was a peek into the olden royal lifestyle, though I did not find it much alluring and wouldn't really recommend it.

Interiors of the Bao Dai Summer Palace
Interiors of the Bao Dai Summer Palace

Drive to Trai Mat -

We wished to visit Trai Mat, a little village on the outskirts of Dalat. Though the train would be the best option, we didn't want to miss it in case the trains did not run even today.


So we decided to ride there on our hired two-wheeler. The 7 km drive outside the town was pretty scenic with long stretches of farmland on both sides of the road. It was a joyful ride where we even stopped to admire the green landscapes.


Linh Phuoc Pagoda

Trai Mat is a rather small village and the Linh Phuoc pagoda is very close to the main road. The Trai Mat railway station lies next to the pagoda and hence most tourists prefer the train ride on this route.



The Buddhist pagoda is an architectural marvel for the use of broken glass bottles and porcelain pieces in its construction. I hadn't expected the extravagant craftsmanship all throughout the Pagoda. Pieces of similar glass pieces are stacked together to form Buddha figurines and depict stories from the Buddha's life on the interiors of the walls. The exteriors are equally charming. A structure of a dragon seems to be circling the pagoda which is believed to be the protector of the place.

There is also a bell tower across the main temple building. This is noted as the largest bell tower in all of Vietnam and the bell weighs 8.5 tonnes. Pilgrims were seen worshipping here and ringing the bell after asking for a wish.

All through the premises of this temple complex, I could only notice exquisite artistry. We did not expect that we would spend over two hours admiring this place. The Bodhisattva Avlokiteshwara statue is 18 meters high and made of 650 million immortal flowers. Inside the temple, there is yet another similar statue about four stories high and is surrounded by 108 Buddha statues on three higher floors. We were awestruck by the fine artistry and the grandeur of this place.


Datanla Waterfalls

Dalat is very well known for some beautiful waterfalls on the outskirts of the town. So we planned to visit one in the afternoon. We drove to the Datanla Waterfalls and loved the drive through the forest roads. But eventually opted out of visiting the place because it seemed a bit touristy and noisy for our vibe. We came back from the entrance! Probably, early mornings could be a better time to avoid the crowd and the noise.


Last Evening in Dalat

In the evening we were back in Dalat town and the whole of the main town looked like a carnival. It seemed the year-end celebrations had begun. We visited yet another cosy cafe that was decked up for Christmas! At a glance, it was just another basic farmhouse-style setup for enjoying some coffee and confectioneries. This place was called 'Blue Dream Bread'. The aesthetics and the details in this wooden-house cafe had my heart the moment we stepped in. The nip in the air was adding up to the December evening! The place was a bit over-crowded like the rest of the city that day and the cafe seemed to have exhausted a lot on their menu, but it was still a cute place to spend a few minutes there. We had a yummy Carrot cake before we left!


All these aesthetically pleasing cafes added up to why Dalat felt like a fairytale town. Outside, the town seemed to be glowing like twinkling stars. The town grows uphill surrounding Xuan Huong Lake. From where we stood past the cafe, the lamps from houses, greenhouses, shops and streets made it the city of lights.

Thanks to the festive atmosphere and the multitude of people outdoors, we did have to spend some time finding a place to eat. Most restaurants had exhausted their menu or their tables were occupied. We finally found a pretty Vegan restaurant with countless choices of Vegan Vietnamese delicacies. They had a vegan version of every non-vegetarian Vietnamese dish. I settled for a Pho bowl made of Tapioca noodles and Tofu while Ayan got a salad dish!


Good Bye Da Lat!

The next morning we left for our onward journey from the Dalat Airport but not without a warm cup of coffee from Mr. Luan's own cafe which opens at 7:00 am. Mr Luan joked if we were some coffee estate directors from India because he had not seen many Indian tourists in his town unless they had to do something with the coffee business. We wish we were one but we were just two software engineers who had visited this fairytale town just because we had fallen in love with a beautiful quaint hilly town that was so unique from the rest of Vietnam.


4 Comments


Arshi Sood
Arshi Sood
May 08

Explore the captivating town of Da Lat nestled in Vietnam's Central Highlands. Discover its bohemian charm with highlights like the Xuan Huong Lake offering scenic boat rides, with other best places to visit in Vietnam. Don't miss exploring the serene Tuyen Lam Lake and the adventurous Datanla Waterfall. Da Lat is a must-visit destination for its unique beauty and cultural attractions.

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Rashmi
Rashmi
May 08

Amazing article. Here are some more best places to visit in Vietnam that can be considered for more alike experiences.

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akanksha pandey
akanksha pandey
Apr 19

"Great read! I found this article really informative and engaging. It's always fascinating to learn more about Da Lat. Looking forward to more content like this in the future!"

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Lokesh sharma
Lokesh sharma
Apr 04

Da Lat: A Bohemian town in the Central Highlands of Vietnam!" paints a captivating picture of a hidden gem nestled amidst the picturesque landscapes of Vietnam's Central Highlands. This blog beautifully captures the essence of Da Lat, a place where time seems to stand still amidst the tranquil lakes, lush pine forests, and charming French colonial architecture.

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ABOUT
Me

Hi, I am Saptadeepa, an Indian travel  enthusiast.

My curiosity to explore the unexplored, has led me to some offbeat destinations across India and a few neighbouring South East Asian countries.


Seeking Happiness Diaries is a travel inspired lifestyle blog where I share my adventures, stories, experiences and life lessons  through my journeys.

In leisure, I finds solace in reading books or writing about travel and life experiences on this blog.

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