Explore Vietnam Part 5: Isn’t Dalat cute?

Petit Paris

From the moment I arrived in Dalat, I couldn’t help but think of it as a Vietnamese version of Paris. I can almost hear all the French saying “blasphemy!” now… But the truth is, the town has a very European feel to it. The walk-able alleys, parks, little cafes and bakeries reminded me of the French capital most. And perhaps not without a reason.

How cute is Dalat?

Dalat has strong French roots. It was a hill station founded by French colonialists, who sought to escape  the humidity of Saigon during the weekends. The town does boast some pretty interesting palaces – it was also the summer destination of the Last Emperor, who was close with the French.

The architecture and art might be slightly different than in Paris 😉 but Dalat definitely has its own character. And, on top of it all, it is also quite a good spot for romantic evenings.

Landmark equivalents: The Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge and The Notre Dame Cathedral?

It is really hard to look at the dominant structure over Dalat’s city panorama and not think of the Eiffel Tower. Also, note the facades of the buildings right beneath it in the photo – don’t they look quite European as well?

Dalat city centre. How cute is the little park? And it’s so clean too!

It might come to a surprise to some, but Christians constitute 8% of Vietnamese population. It is not unlikely to see Catholic Churches in major cities. Many of them are very French – inspired (the Christianity came to Vietnam with French colonialists after all).

Moulin Rouge, anyone?
St. Nicholas’ Cathedral could be a local Notre Dame equivalent. The “no way” sign is a pretty funny coincidence.

French style architecture

Interesting to see are also three palaces in Dalat. Bao Dai Summer Palace (the “third” palace) was a residence of the last emperor of the ruling family of Vietnam. Bao Dai abdicated in 1945, after the Japanese lost the war, which allowed Viet Minh (Vietnamese revolutionary coalition with Ho Chi Minh as a leader) to take over the country and form a republic. Thus, monarchy ceased to exist in Vietnam. After the French came back in the 1950’s, the Palace was the house of the king.

Bao Dai himself was thought to be associated closely with the French. France was also the country where he spent half of his life at exile and – ultimately – died as well.

Bao Dai Summer Palace – a two-storey building in art deco style.
The only time I could be a princess on this trip. This is the most touristy and un-French part of the entire castle.
The reception room on the first floor was pretty cosy.  This is where the Emperor met his guests.
The really nice palace garden is surrounded by the pine forest surrounding the grounds of the residence.

Artsy art

If you are in a funky mood, definitely head to the Crazy House (Hang Nga guesthouse) for some Alice in Wonderland – like experience. Designed by a local Vietnamese architect Đặng Việt Nga, the tree-like, irregularly shaped building  is meant to revoke images of childhood, dream and curiosity. Get lost in the maze of craziness!

Crazy house is constantly under renovation and further construction.
One of many funny windows – do you see the Dali and Gaudi influence?
The staircase was pretty narrow so it paid off to be petite

Romantic setting

Dalat’s low key atmosphere is perfect for couples seeking a small weekend get-away. A walk in one of the gardens in the city or an evening at the Xuan Huong lake can be intimate and relaxing.

Fancy a walk in the rose garden?
Dalat by night
Dalat by night – you can enjoy Xuan Huong lake by renting one of the pedal boats. It takes around 90 min to go around the lake.
The swan-shaped pedal boats are pretty popular (there are two rental places by the lake and both have swan boats).

Dalat? What? Where? Why?

If you are planning a trip to Vietnam, Dalat probably isn’t on top of your list. More likely even – you haven’t heard of the city at all. For me personally, it was perhaps the most relaxing, low-key and charming place in Vietnam. Why is that?

  1. I liked the slightly tacky, but cute!, French/European-like charm of the town.
  2. I loved the surrounding mountain scenery and waterfalls.
  3. Finally, I enjoyed the historical context of Dalat that shed some light on the country’s 20th century  colonial history.
  4. Dalat was relatively free of international tourists.

Dalat is a town located in South Central Highlands of Vietnam. It is popular only with local Vietnamese tourists, who perhaps treat it as a weekend get-away from much more humid Saigon Funny enough, Dalat was a resort founded by the French during the colonial era precisely for the same reasons. There are relatively few international backpackers there, which was a pleasant surprise.

 If you are backpacking in Vietnam, Dalat is a good stop on the route Saigon – NHA Trang or Saigon – Hoi An. It is definitely very different than any other Vietnamese town – much less crazy and much more walk-able.

For hostels, I can recommend Da Lat 24h Guesthouse – it had very friendly staff, who let us nap in one of the rooms after the overnight journey by bus before we were able to check in to our own room.

One thing I didn’t mention above is the amazing nature surrounding Da Lat. Be sure to check out Pongour, Elephant and Datanla waterfalls! Beware that some of the paths leading to the waterfalls are pretty difficult so be sure to wear appropriate footwear.

Pongour falls – a popular spot for canyoning. My camera died at that point, so excuse the phone selfie 🙂

Dalat is worth visiting if you are looking to relax for a couple of days in some peaceful surrounding and pleasant weather.


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