Dalat, Vietnam, might be my favorite stop in Southeast Asia so far. It was a (literal) cool break from the sweltering heat we’ve endured from Singapore, to Kuala Lumpur, to Bangkok, to Phenom Penh. Let’s face it: concrete jungles are hotter, and I’m tired of cities.
Even coastal breezes in cities we visited like Pattaya and Hua Hin on Thailand’s coastline did not feel cool with the humidity. But Dalat — Dalat was like a dream come true for a woman having perimenopausal symptoms and dreadful, frequent hot flashes on post-breast cancer medication sweltering for months in the tropics, not too far from Earth’s equator.
For the first time since November 2018, I wore a (thin) sweatshirt and my yoga pants. De-freaking-lightful. We stayed in Dalat only a few days on our way back to the coast, but it was enough to remind me there are seasons on the planet, and temperatures sub-80 degrees.
At 5,000 feet elevation, Dalat can get up to 80-plus degrees in the sun, but the temperatures fall back into the low 60s at night, with no humidity. Dalat has the best temperatures possible, in my humble opinion.
There were nine other off-the-top-of-my-head reasons I loved Dalat:
- It’s a small-ish city with hills and winding roads
- Its motorbike traffic is manageable – I felt like I could cross the street with no issues
- It’s not totally overrun with tourists – there are more locals than tourists
- No chain stores at all (that I saw) – no Starbucks, KFC, etc., etc. (KFCs are more popular than McDonalds in Southeast Asia, it seems)
- Google hasn’t mapped out the bus routes yet (which can be good, and bad, but in a place this small, it’s good)
- There are flowers growing all over the place – including some beautifully fragrant bushes
- Taxi rides are cheaper than Grab – a dollar or two for a mile or two
- Nature hikes, waterfalls, and pine forests are easily accessible from the center of town — you don’t need a tour group or guide to enjoy them
- And, as always, everyone I met was friendly, kind, helpful (although we did get the “tourist prices” on a few things … )
- Already mentioned: the climate
If 10 reasons aren’t enough, here are 10 (!) more.
Waterfalls (11) and roller coasters (12)
At the waterfalls closest to town, called the Datanla Waterfalls there are two “roller coaster” tracks. These are actually more like single-car bob sleds on rails.
Visitors can race down to two waterfalls, and then be carried back uphill. My husband and my mother-in-law took the trip on the “new” roller coaster, which is up the driveway from the main entrance and parking lot. (Mom met up with us for a three-plus week visit.) They were thrilled with the rides for about $5.60 — priceless for the spouse to hear his mom squeal with delight all the way down. (The new coaster is said to go faster than the old coaster.)
I walked down and back up. The trail is super easy, and I had it all to myself until the very end, when a few hundred Chinese tourists started walking down. Entry to the park without a coaster ticket was just over a dollar.
There are other waterfalls in the region, but we only stayed for three nights (pout) and so we didn’t get to see them on this trip.
Cable Car ride (13) and monastery (14)
After the Datanla Falls, we followed the road that eventually goes uphill to the Truc Lam Monastery. It will be worth the steep walk on the road up. The monastery is worth a visit for the views, for the peaceful atmosphere, for the pagodas, for the gardens. (And ladies, they have really nice bathrooms.)
Near the entrance/exit to the monastery is the entrance to the Dalat Cable Car. Don’t miss this!
For just $2.60, you can ride the cable back down to town. It’s amazing to see pine forests — in Vietnam. The ride lasted about 12 minutes. (Note, round trip is only another $.75, but we took a local bus right to the waterfall park entrance to start the journey.)
The Crazy House (15)
Man, oh man, this sure is a crazy place. One review we read said it was like Gaudi meets Tolkien – on acid. That’s about right. It started as a coffee shop, and transformed into a hotel, and now it a hotel and tourist attraction. It costs just a few bucks to get in and wander around, but rooms can be pricey for the night.
When guests check out of the rooms, visitors who pay to wander around can peak inside the guest rooms, which all have themes. The Bear room, for example, or the Honeymoon suite – with honey bee decor, of course.
There are crazy facades, crazy staircases, a crazy coffee shop, and more.
It’s a work in progress, and the architect has an interesting life story. She was born into privilege in Vietnam, but opted to build instead. She was schooled in Russia, and went into debt building the Crazy House. Her driving philosophy appears to be: we should learn to live more in concert with nature.
5 more reasons to love Dalat
I haven’t even covered the night market (16), the backpacker area (17), the funky plaza with colored glass globes (18), the large lake and “swan boat” rides (19), and the super friendly people (20).
I’d like to stop back in Dalat again in the future — probably when I need another break from the relentless heat and humidity (and city noise and pollution) in Southeast Asia. And I will bet I will find even more reasons to love that place.