A trip to Vietnam is incomplete without a visit to Dalat. A city surrounded by hills, pine forests, lakes and waterfalls, it is centered around a golf course.
Once you’ve explored Saigon to the hilt, a quick 50-minute flight takes you to a whole other world altogether. This is a world where fresh produce, flowers, mountains and pine forests come together in seamless symphony. Here lakes weave through streets and the skyline is dotted with colonial homes and ancient churches. Welcome to Dalat.
A mini Europe in Vietnam
During the French occupation of Vietnam, Dalat was zeroed in as the location the French folk would visit to escape the drudgery and sheer exhaustion that comes with colonisation. They left their mark by building French colonial villas and planting pine trees. Even today, as you step out on to Dalat’s soil, you’ll be reminded of Europe.
The Vietnamese government decided to leave the hundreds (if not thousands) of colonial villas intact. They have now been leased out individually to budding entrepreneurs who have converted them into hotels and resorts. These beautiful old French villas are rather grand with spacious suites and massive bathrooms that come complete with standalone baths and views of pine trees. Because of the sheer size of the villas, some have a slightly worn out look, but it’s more of a well-worn look as opposed to one of neglect.
An adventure seekers paradise
There’s a lot to see and do in Dalat. It is best explored on your own, be it on a scooter or a hired car for the day so that you can sync your rhythm to Dalat’s eclectic beat. For the adventure buffs, there are numerous waterfalls, mountains, lakes and rivers. One has the option of going kayaking, hiking, biking, and even canyoning, a sport where one can rappel down the face of the waterfall.
The town centre is best explored on foot and there are some great guided walking tours organised by local tour operators. Apart from shopping for all your requirements, walking around the town also allows one to indulge in fresh strawberries, apricots and to literally, stop and smell the roses. There are even a couple of flower gardens in and around the city and they are ladled with all the Vietnamese kitsch one would ever need.
A woodland fantasy brought to life
Dalat is also home to the notoriously famous Crazy House, a Gaudi-esque house designed by Vietnamese architect Dang Viet Nga. Despite occasional clampdowns on her creativity, this house which also operates as a hotel, continues to grow and expand. The rooms are as crazy as the property itself with themes like gourd, kangaroo, ants, giraffe and the like. Just 3.1 kms away from the Dalat railway station, this is a must visit for its quirky and kooky architecture.
Dalat also boasts of a bustling night market with endless food stalls. Vendors sell everything from knitted minion keyrings to chicken feet salad to everything in between. Take your pick, wander around and pick up a few bottles of jam and passionfruit concentrate to take back home.
Binh An Village is colonial charm and natural calm combined
To know about the Dalat that the French sought, head to Binh An Village, about six kms away from the city centre. One can avail the shuttles that go into the city and back three times a day. The people there have a high focus on eating organic and grow most of their produce. For those who love adventure, kayaks and mountain bikes are available on hire. The sunset hours are best spent sitting at the edge of Tuyen Lam Lake, on a little wooden deck that goes out onto the water.
Dalat is full of charming discoveries both big and small. As you walk around the golf course, pine trees and lakes, don’t forget to buy yourself a bag full of fresh fruit. You will fall in love with Dalat. That’s guaranteed.
ElByte has express permission to publish this extract from an article that was originally published in Jet Wings, the in-flight magazine of Jet Airways.