To the local hill tribes, Da Lat means ‘river of the Lat tribe’. The capital of Lam Dong Province in Vietnam is also known by other names. Some call it the Honeymoon Capita, the City of Eternal Spring, or the City in the Fog. Locals refer to Da Lat as ‘Little Paris’ while the area is often referred to as Vietnam’s vegetable garden with the area producing broccoli, asparagus, artichokes, and a wide variety of European flowers.
Da Lat City was officially established in the late 1800s and was a popular destination for Europeans who wanted to escape the heat of, what was then known as, Saigon. The temperature in Da Lat ranges between 15°C and 24°C – much cooler than other areas in Vietnam. Da Lat started as an agricultural research station and later transformed into a resort-town designed for rest and relaxation.
Nearly 2 000 French villas, built in the 1920s and 1930s, are scattered throughout the area. The French Quarter of Da Lat meanders along Tran Hung Dao Road, which houses schools and churches and villas. The nearby Da Lat Cathedral was built between 1931 and 1942 and served as the place of worship for French colonialists. Today visitors can admire the spire and cockerel-shaped weathervane. The Cathedral is not open to the public except for services on the weekends.
Da Lat got its train station in 1943, and the original ticket windows are still there, along with an old steam engine. Visitors (in minimum groups of 4) can ride in a train with a wood-burning locomotive and travel the 5 kilometres through the mountain pass to Trai Mar. The route along the railway is littered with pine trees, vegetable farms and tea plantations.
As the Honeymoon capital, Da Lat has a lot to offer in terms of romance – even the radio tower is shaped like the Eiffel Tower! The Lake of Sighs is said to be a meeting place for star-crossed lovers who could never be together. Today it is a popular area for couples to spend time together. You can rent a paddleboat to go out on the lake or take a drive around the lake in a horse-drawn carriage.
Da Lat has a theme park called the Valley of Love. The park is surrounded by hills and sits on the edge of a lake, amidst beautiful gardens. The theme park has staff dressed as cowboys, and you can take pony rides or take a swan-shaped pedal boat out on one of the lakes.
Da Lat has a lot to offer besides romantic outings. There is the Summer Palace of Vietnam’s last emperor, Bao Dai.
There are several waterfalls in the area. Datanla waterfalls are perhaps the most famous – and come with the option of riding a roller coaster to the bottom of the falls. A visit to Elephant Falls is perfect for those looking for something more off the beaten track, while Pongour Falls impresses with water cascading down from a height of 20 meters. The tallest falls (90 metres) in the area is Dambri Falls, 75 kilometres from Da Lat.
Linh Phuoc Pagoda hosts the tallest bell tower in Vietnam, while Lam Ty Ni Pagoda has an art gallery where you can purchase monastic artwork. Linh Son Pagoda is lesser-known, but the Pagoda is surrounded by tea and coffee plantations, and visitors can see monks harvesting crops during harvesting season. The newest temple in Da Lat can be reached by a cable car and offer stunning views.
But wait, there’s more! The Da Lat Flower Gardens encompasses 7 000 square meters and has over 300 different kinds of flowers. Different flowers bloom at different times of the year, making the gardens a lovely place to visit at any time. The flowers are generally more vibrant during the dry season between November and March. An annual flower festival is held each year in January.
Most visitors only spend about four days in Da Lat, but with so much to do and see in the area, one can easily spend more days here. Da Lat is a unique place that combines the feel of French colonialism with authentic Vietnamese culture and natural beauty – all with the added tinge of romance.
A version of this article first appeared at www.zafigo.com