Da Lat: a Floral Gem in Southern Vietnam
Imagine sitting on top of a mountain, a gentle breeze blows across the green hills, the blue sky is so close you might be able to shift the clouds around with your fingertips and further down a turquoise lake reflects the radiant colors of the surrounding landscape; as you observe the world from up above, the smell of oriental flowers inebriates your heart and the spring sunshine warms your soul, it's Da Lat saying hello, in all its purity, and all you have to do is enjoy its incredible beauties.
From the French colonialism to our days
The charming city of Da Lat, funded by the French in 1907 and situated 1500m above sea level, is one of the most popular holiday locations in Vietnam, its moderate climate and a huge variety of flowers give this hill town an eternal spring atmosphere which makes it very appealing for all those running away from the usual heat and humidity of other cities in Vietnam. Due to the French colonial period, the city has got quite a peculiar look, and its majestic villas and churches are a sight for sore eyes when blended with the local style and a glimpse of street art. "Le Petit Paris", as many people call it, is well known for its unspoiled nature, green hills, shiny lakes and minority villages, and all sort of tours are usually arranged for the tourists to visit the scenic landscape and try local products (fruit, vegetables, and coffee).
The Countryside Tour
There are a few things one can do while relaxing in this sleeping town, from classic outdoor activities such as hiking or horse-riding to more informative pursuits like cooking classes and city tours, no matter what choice you make, it's going to be fun. However, many tours in town offer most of these activities combined in a one-day trip included a tour guide, local lunch, and unlimited water. The most popular tour is, without a doubt, the Countryside tour which starts early in the morning until late afternoon and gives a general idea of what the area looks like and what the locals do in their daily life. The first stop is at the flower Greenhouse, so tourists can marvel at the town's masterpiece and its most popular variety of colorful flowers (roses, peach blossoms, mimosa, flame trees, orchids, pansy flower, sunflowers, and azaleas), a great spot for taking pictures and getting together with mother nature. Next on the list is the cricket farm, where one can try local snacks (crickets and worms) before washing them down with some good old rice wine, a very popular alcoholic drink made out of rice, also known as happy water by the locals. The first stage of the tour ends with a visit to the silk factory, where they show you how silk is processed step by step, from cocoon to fabric. After a nice lunch, the tour resumes off to the minority village of the Lat people, where one can walk around the authenticity of their houses, families, traditions, and stories, certainly one the most interesting parts of the tour. The Linh An Pagoda comes next, this Buddhist shrine is one of the visited pagodas of the area and it's known as the jewel of Dalat. The most imposing place of this pagoda is its 1,400 square meters wide sanctum, which was built in 1999, and a 50 feet tall statue representing the Happy Buddha standing right behind the building, many other fascinating relics can be spotted on the way. A walk away from the Linh An is the Elephant Waterfalls, a must-see in Dalat, the scenery is rather pleasant and the most adventurous can also climb their way to the water jet. The final stop is the coffee plantation, to witness the production of the famous weasel coffee, local prime quality coffee made out of weasel's excrements and exported all over the world (or so they say).
More to see and do
Before leaving town, everyone should pay a visit to the enchanting Flower garden. Here, more than 300 kinds of flowers are on the display and spread on a surface of 7000 square meters, quite impressive for just a garden. Number two on the list of things to see is the Crazy House, an unconventional building designed by Vietnamese architect Dang Viet Nga. The house itself resembles a big tree and it's decorated with the most bizarre elements. The whole complex is rather surreal, and the interiors are intriguing, in one room, guests are watched over by the glowing red eyes of a kangaroo. Other rooms feature elaborate local tribal decorations or carved birds looming over beds tucked snugly into cave-like nooks. Visitors can tour the building for a small fee or even book a room and stay the night.
At night Da Lat is pretty lively, in the streets are several bars and a big night market, with local food stalls, handicrafts, clothing, jewelry and, of course, flowers. The Maze Bar is the coolest in town, the building spreads on different levels, the atmosphere is very chill, music and drinks are pretty good and, the last but not least, the bar is a maze so you need to work your way to/from the bar, pretty funny after a couple of drinks.
Visiting Da Lat for a few days is worthwhile, it is a young city that manages to blend tradition with fun, elements that are usually not easy to find in Vietnam and therefore deserves a place in the spotlight amongst other iconic cities in the country.