Dalat, Vietnam: A Small City for Great-Outdoors Tourists

Ever heard of Dalat, Vietnam? No. We hadn’t either–but it ended up being a welcome, refreshing stop on our Southeast Asia journey. This small French colonial city in the mountains isn’t often on the list with cities like Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue and Hoi An–and it wasn’t on our list of places we wanted to visit in the seven days we’d scheduled for Vietnam. But since three of my best friends since middle school (in Tucson, Arizona!) miraculously happened to be traveling in Vietnam the same time as my husband Olivier and I, it ended up the second Vietnam city and the final spot on our Asia trip.

at Dalat Vietnam night fair

My friend Ashley penciled in a trip to Dalat since she heard it had great hiking trails and outdoorsy stuff like canyoning, biking and rafting. Sadly, she ended up having to cancel on our trip last minute due to a death in the family. But my other two friends, Emily and Whitney, sold Olivier and I on meeting up in Dalat from Hanoi. Having seen an obscene number of temples and our share of big cities on our seven weeks of travels, a nature break was refreshing.

Dalat Vietnam hike

While we were among just a handful of other western tourists, Dalat is, we read, a hot destination for many Vietnamese weddings and honeymoons. Built at the start of the 20th century by the French as a mountain retreat, the city is filled with old world charm, with colonial houses and plenty of the street vendors you’d expect in Vietnam–especially at the Dalat night market, where they hawk local treats like “pizzas” on rice paper, baked sweet potatoes and grilled corn.

Dalat Vietnam night market

But the main attraction is, of course, the outdoor space…and the cool, fresh springlike temperatures year-round (a sweet break from the stifling heat and humidity of Hanoi).

One morning we jogged for an hour from our hotel and around the lake at the center of the city–perfect weather and a scenic pathway (though we were the only people we saw running…though that’s never stopped us).

Lake in Dalat Vietnam

At the end, we stopped in the Dalat Flower Garden for a coconut and a quick walk around:

Dalat Vietnam flower garden

During our other full day, we scheduled a guided hike with Dalat Passion Tours from 8am to 5pm for $25, lunch and transport included. They bussed us from our hotel to a trail in the mountains just outside the city, where we hiked through the forest and coffee plantations.

hike in coffee plantation in Dalat Vietnam

hike in Dalat Vietnam

Tiger waterfall in Dalat Vietnam

Our favorite part was crossing the river on this rickety old bridge, which was basically a few cables (and some missing wood boards afoot):

Dalat-Vietnam-hike-view

We would have liked to stay for another day or two, but we had to make our flight out of Singapore back to Paris. But our friends did stay on: The first day they went whitewater rafting near Dalat; the next they biked from Dalat to Mui Ne, a gorgeous beach town where they stayed a couple of nights (the travel company brought their bags to their next destination by car).

Where to stay

We stayed at the Dreams Hotel, a relatively bare-bones but very clean motel at $25/night with an outdoor hot tub on the top floor, a super sweet staff and a delicious breakfast (fruit, bread, local jam, eggs and bacon cooked to order by the concierge).

How to get around

If you stay in downtown Dalat it’s pretty easy to get around by foot (if you can navigate the typical swarms of Vietnamese motorbikes), even to the lake–but hailing a taxi is also very easy (and they automatically start the meter–refreshing since we were used to always having to negotiate an overpriced taxi elsewhere).

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