Known as the City of a Thousand Pine Trees, Dalat offers more than enough activities to keep you busy. The town’s 4,921-foot elevation keeps it cool year-round, yet it’s only a six-hour drive or a 50-minute flight to steamy Ho Chi Minh City.
Dalat is tucked into a hilly valley, surrounded by pine forests, cascading waterfalls, exotic temples, and peaceful lakes. Its growing population of more than 400,000 makes it large enough to have everything you need, yet small enough to have a comfortable, small-town ambiance.
Here’s a list of some of my favorite things to do in Dalat. Some activities are perfect for families; others are for thrill-seekers or photography buffs. Whatever your inclination, you’ll be spoiled for choice in Dalat.
1. Browse for Bargains at the Dalat’s Central Market
The Central Highlands is in one of the few temperate-zone regions in Southeast Asia, and the vicinity around Dalat is renowned for producing much of the produce consumed in Vietnam, as well as for growing coffee and flowers that are exported around the globe. The Dalat Market is right in the center of town. You’ll find hundreds of shops and stalls piled high with fresh-picked avocados, tomatoes, strawberries, artichokes, mulberries, fresh-cut flowers, and some of the world’s finest coffee. This is the best place to buy a dozen roses or a pound of coffee for $2 or less.
2. Have Dinner at the Night Market
Once the sun sets, the Dalat Market transforms into a night market and the streets turn into a chaotic jumble of street stalls. Crowds of locals and tourists converge to socialize and feast on skewers of grilled fresh meat and fish, chargrilled shrimp and squid, buckets of shellfish, and plenty of traditional Vietnamese fare—spring rolls, noodles, and rice dishes. The night market stays busy until late in the evening, and is the most interesting and one of the most economical dining experiences in town.
3. Soak in the Scents at the Dalat Flower Gardens
One of Dalat’s many monikers is the City of Flowers, and the best place to get a sense of it is to head to the Dalat Flower Gardens, where you’ll be treated to the sights and scents of more than 300 different kinds of flowers throughout a sprawling two-acre park. Flowers bloom throughout the year, but you’ll get a fairytale display during the summer months, when the gardens are bursting with color. The park is directly across the street from pretty Xuan Huong Lake—a perfect place to relax with a drink or snack after spending a day at the flower gardens. The lake, which is a landmark of Dalat, is a peaceful spot with pretty flowerbeds, willow, Jacaranda, and peach trees. Xuan Huong Lake offers activities for tourists, including paddleboats, a coffee garden, and horse-drawn carriages.
4. Dalat’s Bizarre Crazy House
One of Dalat’s charms is that it’s a little bit kitschy, with a few quirky sites that you won’t want to miss when you’re in the area. The most famous of these is Crazy House, a hotel and walking museum where you might feel like you’ve been transported to a scene straight out of Alice in Wonderland.
Crazy House, which is officially named Hang Nga Guest House and Art Gallery, was started in 1990 by Moscow-educated architect Dr. Dang Viet Nga and is a work in progress. The exterior of this eccentric, five-story building resembles a tree, complete with vines, mushrooms, spider webs, and tunnels, while the 10 unique animal-themed rooms have oddly shaped windows, built-in handcrafted furniture and a near total absence of right angles.
5. Take a Cable Car to Truc Lam Zen Buddhist Monastery
This is one of the newer temples in Dalat, and it’s worth going here not only to experience this serene Zen monastery, but to see pretty Tuyen Lam Lake and get a birds-eye view of Dalat during the cable car journey.
Accessed from a hilltop about a mile outside of the center of Dalat, the cable car takes you across a scenic valley and deposits you right at the base of the monastery. From here, you can wander through the meticulously manicured grounds, inside the various worship halls, and among the flower gardens and topiary. This is an active temple, where monks go about their daily routines while temple bells chime peacefully in the breeze.
Tuyen Lam Lake is an easy walk from the temple grounds, along a trail that passes through a fresh pine forest and crisp mountain air. It’s a large lake in a scenic setting.
6. Pick a Waterfall
The mountains around Dalat are teaming with waterfalls. Many of these are easily accessible by motorbike or public transportation, while others are more remote and less touristy. Datanla Falls is just three miles south of the city and is the most developed waterfall in the Dalat area. At these multi-tiered falls, visitors can ride an Alpine-slide roller coaster from the top to the bottom of the falls, take a cable car, try rappelling, rafting, or “free jumping.” Of course, you can just go to enjoy the views. Choose your time wisely to avoid the crowds.
If you explore a bit farther out of town, you’ll have your pick of waterfalls, and many of these have seen little to no development. The biggest and most spectacular of these is Bao Dai Falls, which are more than 200 feet high and 300 feet wide. Aside from the stone path and steps leading through the dense jungle foliage to the falls, this area has remained largely undeveloped. Bao Dai Falls are a pleasant 90-minute drive about 30 miles south of the city.
7. Have a Drink in an Amazing Bar
100 Roofs is the most unique bar in Dalat—and one of the oddest watering holes you’ll find anywhere. Though the bar is quite inconspicuous on the outside, once you step indoors, you enter a multistory labyrinth with winding tunnels, stairways that lead nowhere, sculpted women twisting out the walls, and a rooftop (if you can make it that far) with a sweeping view of Dalat. It’s quite possible to get lost in this place, which is also called The Maze Bar—but that’s part of the fun.