Elevated between hills and clouds, Da Lat is a city where you can pull back from Vietnam’s brutal weather. This place is blessed with eternal spring, and stopping by can be felt like a relieve.
Da Lat isn’t a city that offers hair-raising adventures or unbeatable highlights. It has a couple of appealing and culturally enriching sights, but the refreshing climate is reason enough to keep coming back for more cool mountain air.
Visit a coffee farm
The first thing I noticed in Da Lat is the countless farms and greenhouses, displaying vibrant flowers and beds of vegetables.
Thanks to the elevation and fertile soil, the vegetation and crops in Da Lat are different from lower parts in the country. Vietnam is the second-largest coffee producer in the world, and a significant portion is grown in Da Lat and the surrounding area. Of all places, Da Lat is the right spot to learn about coffee.
The farm K’ho Coffee tells the story of the world’s most popular dark liquid, step by step from their colourful Arabica berries in the tree to a comforting mug. They organize half-day tours, during which you’ll get to sample their brews, see the sorting of the beans, and witness the roasting. The price for this morning tour is 700.000 dong, and lunch is included in the price.
Bear in mind that K’ho Coffee closes on Sunday, so plan your visit properly.
Stuff your face with excellent food
From barbecues to hipster cafes and crispy spring rolls; Da Lat’s food scene serves everybody’s pallets. An Café is a favoured hangout place to kick off the day with excellent coffee, creative smoothies, and fresh food.
Head to Dong Tam Street for cheap banh xeo rice pancakes (10.000 dong per piece) and Em Oi Restaurant, that serves Hoi An specialties such as the enticing noodle dishes cao lau and mi quang.
‘Irresistible’ is the most applicable term to describe the DIY rice paper rolls feast at Nem Nuong Ba Hung. You can create your own rolls, filled with the usual Vietnamese greens, sausage and fresh pork cracklings, and dip them in a divine peanut sauce.
Fill your tummy on a budget at Tiem Com Ngoc Bich, where you pay 35.000 dong for a stuffing lunch. A main dish of choice, a heap of rice, stir-fried morning glory, cucumber soup, iced tea and water keep you going for the rest of the afternoon. Both the fried shrimp and pork omelette are amazing.
In addition to food, a part of Da Lat’s charm is created due to its stunning array of religious buildings.
Check out Da Lat’s temples
The Da Lat Cathedral is gorgeous and worth a visit, but similar churches can be found elsewhere in Vietnam. You’ll bump into more unique structures when you hit the road for the hilly countryside around the city.
A magnificent example is the tongue-twisting Mẹ Quán Thế Âm Nam Ban Đà Lạt Lâm Đồng, a Buddhist pagoda with a towering Buddha statue right beside it. I kept gazing upon the size of this structure that can be seen from afar.
A few steps away sits a tiny ticket booth, where you can get access to the Elephant Waterfall for 20.000 dong. It’s not the most thunderous waterfall you’ll see in Southeast Asia, but the convenient location right next to the pagoda and the adventurous trail leading to the falls makes it worth going anyway.
Be enchanted at Chùa Linh Phước
On the southeast of Da Lat city proper, Chùa Linh Phước is an equally enchanting temple complex. This amazingly colourful sanctuary seems odd between the density of houses and greenhouses on the hills around. The complex consists of several decorated halls, a giant Buddha made of flowers, and a 6-story pagoda which you can climb for 360 views of the area.
The dragons and other creatures carved onto the roofs, ceramic tiles, and golden statues give Chùa Linh Phước a pinch of magic I’ve never experienced before in any temple. It’s definitely worth the 20-minute ride from the city centre of Da Lat.
Budget travellers, take note; the entrance is free, and there’s no parking fee for motorbikes.
Chill out at the Tuyen Lam Lake
This lake basically is a huge man-made pond, encircled by pine forests. Here, you can walk around, ride a boat, have a picnic on the shores, or get your fishing rod out. All in all, it’s a leisurely site and a spot where locals spend their spare time as well.
You can reach the lake via a trail along the nearby monastery, or via a cable car from Robin Hill. This might be an exciting mode of transportation if you’re not afraid of heights because the farmlands and forests are perfectly visible from high above. The ride is longer than 2 kilometres, and the 70.000 dong round-trip fare is a supreme bargain.
Hop by Trúc Lâm Pagoda
Although this complex isn’t massive by any kind, it flaunts with an abundance of vivid flowers and a fascinating stupa. It’s certainly not a place to spend hours, but it’s relaxing to stroll around after visiting the Tuyen Tam Lake. The monastery is only a short stroll away from the eastern shoreline. As with all religious sites in the region, entering doesn’t cost a thing.
Visit the historic train station
Da Lat doesn’t take part in all-day train transportation in Vietnam, but the French colonialists left a charming station that serves as a tourist attraction nowadays.
Not only the building is eye-catching with its totally yellow front; the old-school trains behind the entrance gate are the ones you often see in black and white movies with substantial interference. The carriages have leather seats and curtains. You’re basically time-travelling in this cosy station.
Take note that this is not a hidden gem, and people tend to do extensive photo-shoots while popping up in your own camera viewfinder continuously.
It’s a place for a quick stop, and the 10.000 dong entrance fee and 5.000 dong parking fee for motorbikes don’t burn a hole in your wallet.
There’s a tourist train service, going from this station to the Linh Phước pagoda 5 times a day. A seat in the classy carriages costs around 140.000 dong. I didn’t ride this train, because the journey takes only 30 minutes and you have to buy a round-trip ticket to get back to Da Lat.
How to get around in Da Lat
The city itself is relatively small, and most places can be reached on foot. If your destination is too far, you can book a motorbike taxi with the Grab application. Grab Car is not available in Da Lat.
For exploring the sights, it’s recommended to rent a motorbike. Most accommodations rent bikes out for 100.000 – 150.000 dong for a full day.
How to get to Da Lat
Da Lat lies in South Vietnam, at about 300 kilometres away from Ho Chi Minh City. Buses connect these cities regularly, and a ticket for the 8-hour trip sets you back 250.000 dong.
If you decide to travel to Da Lat from Hanoi, it’s advisable to catch a flight. The flight time is about 90 minutes. From Da Lat Airport you can take a shuttle, and you’ll be dropped off at a parking space next to Villa Khang Chi, which is near the centre. A ride costs 40.000 dong.