Dalat, also Da Lat (Đà Lạt), in the South Central Highlands of Vietnam, was originally the playground of the French who built villas in the clear mountain air to escape the heat and humidity of the plains and coastal areas.
Introduction to Dalat
Dalat looks somewhat like a cross between Vietnam and rural France. Many of its hotels and houses are built in a European/French style. The city spreads across a series of pine-covered hills, with a small lake in the centre and surrounded by a man-made lake and higher peaks, making for some lovely scenery quite different from the rest of Vietnam. Temperatures are pleasantly warm by day, and cool at night, down to perhaps 10°C.
Dalat is surrounded by some of the best mountain biking, hiking and canyoning opportunities in Vietnam, with hills of coffee and tea plantations, which evoke images of the colonial hill stations of the north of India.
Dalat’s high altitude (1,500–2,000 m) and fertile landscape make it one of Vietnam’s premier agricultural areas, producing varieties of fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee, and flowers that don’t grow in the lowlands. In markets as far north as Hanoi and Haiphong, vegetable and flower vendors will tout their “grown in Dalat” produce.
Dalat is a favorite destination for company-sponsored weekend outings, family getaways, and honeymooners.
There are daily flights from Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Hanoi, Vinh and Hue. Which are served by Vietnam Airlines, VietJet Air, VASCO and Jetstar Pacific.
Lien Khuong Airport. The airport is a 30 km south of the city linked by a modern, yet scenic, two lane highway.
Some hotels offer special arrangements with taxi companies to ferry hotel guests to and from the airport for around 200,000 dong. Hotels can try to rip you off by asking for anything between 300,000 to 400,000 dong for an airport transfer. Be adamant on 200,000 dong. Taxi service with tel. +84 6 3383 5583 have a fixed price of 250,000 dong. Malinh taxi charges 300,000 dong to the airport. If going by meter, it comes to around 577,000 dong (distance around 35 km).
Or catch the airport shuttle for 40,000 dong per person. They will ask what hotel you’re staying in, and the airport shuttle bus will take you there.
Most local and foreign travellers arrive in Dalat by bus, including those travelling on the famous Sinh Cafe Hanoi-HCMC open-tour buses.
Phuong Trang Busline runs several daily services to Dalat from Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City. From Nha Trang the bus ride is about 5 hours, with the obligatory stop at a dilapidated Cham temple/tourist site. Within the last year or so, a new road from Nha Trang has cut the travel time to 3–4 hours, including a 30-minute breakfast/WC stop about one hour out of Nha Trang. From Ho Chi Minh City the bus ride is about 7 hours (9 hours if there is bad traffic leaving Saigon). If coming from Mui Ne, be careful as the road is rough most of the way, so try to book a large bus or at least a seat towards the front.
From Mui Ne: An Phu Travel. 7:30am, afternoon. The company serves 2 buses a day. It’s not too comfortable seater bus but still ok. Tickets can be booked in most hotels and guest houses. They have free pick up. Journey takes 4-5 hours and includes some great views. Drop off in Dalat: Nguyen Chi Thanh street, close to the city center. USD5. . The Sinh Tourist. The bus tickets are available online on baolau .
From Da Nang – Danang Central Bus Station, sleeper bus from Danang to Dalat  with air-cond, toilet on bus, departs from Danang at 17:00 and arrives Dalat at 08:00 – 09:00 (15 hours), it costs 265,000 dong/ticket, you may come directly to the Bus Station or online booking via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Western visitors it may be best to book a ticket on a bus without a television. The entertainment offered could be loud and unappealing if you prefer sleeping before arriving at their next destination.
Alternatively, catch a local bus at Ho Chi Minh City, Bien Hoa, Phan Rang, Nha Trang or Buon Ma Thuot.
Depending on where you stay, you can walk to most parts around town. You can catch a xe om (motorbike taxi) from most corners, so if you’re going somewhere farther out of town, you have a fast way to get there. You can also book via app using Grab Bike. Taxi cars are also abundant and reasonable in price, yet watch the meter, as meter fixing is a common practice from north to south. As of July 2018 meter fixing is a much diminished problem and almost all taxi meters click into life after the vehicle has traveled a few metres. The occasional taxi may take you on a circuitous route to get to your destination but opening Google maps and pointing out that you know the way reduces incidents of this kind. Taxis are cheap and an ideal way to get round Dalat.
There is a local bus which passes near most of the main tourist sites. Heading south you can catch it at the bus shelter by the lake. Otherwise, the bus hub can be found on Hoa Binh Square (Khu Hoa Binh – behind Hoa Binh theater), just up from the market. The last bus each day is at 17:30.
There are many places around town to rent a bicycle, tandem, or motorbike. Please consider carefully before you rent a motorbike, as according to the Vietnamese law you must be in the possession of a valid Vietnamese driver’s licence to be able to drive a motor vehicle in the country. Failure to have one cancels any insurance that the bike might come with and makes you liable for any damages. In Southeast Asia, you are always liable, as you are always guilty, as you are presumed to have more money than the other party. Hence you will have to pay for damages to the bike and its full value, damages to other people and their property, as well as ruining your holiday.
- Lak Lake. Stop on a bike-tour in the central highlands. It’s a beautiful ride down to the elephant waterfall through coffee plantations and then up to Lak Lake over a mountain and then through sunny highlands with rice fields. The road is partly very bad, but doable.
- University of Dalat, 1 Phu Dong Thien Vuong St. Students from the Hand-in-Hand Club are eager to serve as free guides.
- Dalat Trip Ltd, 27 Truong Cong Dinh, , fax: . Elephant rides.
- Easy Riders, 1 Nguyen Khuyen, . It’s a great and inexpensive way for non-motorcyclists to tour the Central Highlands, giving you access to places you would otherwise never know about. They speak English quite well, and are from the local villages, and know everyone and everything in and around the place. This is the original Easy Rider cited by several guide books, operating since 1992. There are a bunch of companies which jumped on the idea and all call themselves Easy Riders, so it’s quite confusing. The concept is everywhere the same, price and quality may differ.
- Green Adventour, 71 Truong Cong Dinh, . Canyoning & rock climbing.
- Phat Tire Ventures, 109 Nguyen Van Troi, , fax: . Offers canyoning, white water rafting, hiking & camping, cycling and biking tours through the highlands, coffee farms, bamboo forests.
- Dalat Student, . Offers city tour, waterfall tour, coffee farms, bamboo forests. Excellent English speaking and culturally knowledgeable.
- Easy Riders Vietnam, 71 Truong Cong Dinh street, . Easy Riders Vietnam provides guided motorcycle tours and adventures all over Vietnam.
Most visitors to Dalat are Vietnamese, and most of them leave loaded with stuff. What they like to take home is dried and candied fruits, strawberry preserves, coffee, green and artichoke tea, local wine, dried venison, orchids, strawberries, avocados, and other fresh produce. If you take any sort of organized tour, chances are you will be off-loaded for a half hour at a shop selling these items. Local treats are also for sale in abundance in the large central market located in the area around Nguyen Thi Minh Khai and Le Dai Hanh. Partly covered and partly outdoors, the market has dozens of small stalls selling fruits and vegetables, clothing, and a variety of other goods. There is a supermarket on the top floor selling necessities for travellers. Strolling around the market is a favorite evening activity, and every night it buzzes with thousands of visitors.
Travel by Train in Vietnam
Although more expensive than buses, trains are undoubtedly the most comfortable way to travel overland in Vietnam. There is one major train line in Vietnam, the 1,723 km (1,071 mi) trunk between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, on which the Reunification Express runs. Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is more than 30 hours, and overnight hops between major tourism destinations are usually possible, if not entirely convenient. It’s a good way to see the countryside and meet upper-middle class locals, but unless you are travelling in a sleeper car it is no more comfortable than buses.
Air conditioned soft or hard sleeper is recommended, and purchasing as early as possible is a good idea as popular berths and routes are often bought out by tour companies and travel agents well before the departure time (hence being told the train is sold out at a station ticket window or popular tour company office does not mean there are no tickets available–they’ve simply been bought by another reseller). Booking at the train station itself is generally the safest way, just prepare on a piece of paper the destination, date, time, no. of passengers and class. However, unsold tickets can often be bought last minute from people hanging around at the station–a train is rarely sold out for real, as the railway company will add cars when demand is high. Commissions on these tickets will drop away as the departure time draws nearer. Tickets can be returned before departure for a 10% fee. There is also an official Vietnamese Railways website, which has an English version and accepts payments by international bank cards.
Be cautious when using a travel agent to purchase your train tickets, since there is nothing printed on the ticket saying the class you are booked in. As of July 2019 tickets (now termed ‘boarding passes’) do indicate the class of ticket.
This results in a common scam with private travel agents where you will pay them to book a soft-sleeper ticket, they then book you a cheaper hard-sleeper ticket, and you don’t know you’ve been scammed until you board the train and your berths are in the lower class.
By then with the train on the verge of departing it is too late to go back to the scamming agent to demand compensation. With the new boarding passes this scam is less of an issue although buying your ticket directly from the train station remains the best option.
In addition, there are shorter routes from Hanoi leading northwest and northeast, with international crossings into China. One of the most popular of the shorter routes is the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai (with a bus service from Lao Cai to the tourism destination of Sa Pa).
Always try to buy your tickets at least 3 days in advance, to avoid disappointment, especially during peak holiday season, during which you should try to book at least 2 weeks in advance.
If you are sensitive to cigarette smoke try to book a seat in the middle of the carriage as people smoke in the areas at the end of each carriage and the doors are often left open.
Historical Facts about Vietnam
Vietnam’s history is one of war, colonization and rebellion. Occupied by China no fewer than four times, the Vietnamese managed to fight off the invaders just as often. Even during the periods in history when Vietnam was independent, it was mostly a tributary state to China until the French colonization. Vietnam’s last emperors were the Nguyễn Dynasty, who ruled from their capital at Hue from 1802 to 1945, although France exploited the succession crisis after the fall of Tự Đức to de facto colonise Vietnam after 1884.
Both the Chinese occupation and French colonization have left a lasting impact on Vietnamese culture, with Confucianism forming the basis of Vietnamese social etiquette, and the French influencing Vietnamese cuisine.
After a brief Japanese occupation in World War II, the Communist Viet Minh under the leadership of Hồ Chí Minh continued the war of independence against the French. The last Emperor Bao Dai abdicated in 1945 with a proclamation of independence following soon after. The majority of French had left by 1945, but in 1946 they returned to continue the fight until their decisive defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
The Geneva Conference partitioned the country into two at the 17th parallel, with a communist-led North supported by the Soviet Union, and Ngô Đình Diệm establishing a capitalist regime and declaring himself President of the Republic of Vietnam in the South supported by the United States.
South Vietnam would be plagued by numerous domestic problems, including corruption, nepotism and electoral fraud. Diệm, who was a Roman Catholic, enacted laws that discriminated against the Buddhist majority in favor of the Catholic minority, which led to the Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức self-immolating in protest at a busy intersection in Saigon in 1963.
US economic and military aid to South Vietnam grew during the 1960s in an attempt to bolster the South Vietnamese government.
This escalated into the dispatch of 500,000 American troops in 1966 and what became known as the Vietnam War in the West (the Vietnamese refer to it as the American War). What was supposed to be a quick and decisive action soon degenerated into a quagmire, and U.S. armed forces withdrew following a cease-fire agreement in 1973.
Two years later, on April 30, 1975, a North Vietnamese tank drove into the South’s Presidential Palace in Saigon and the war ended. An estimated 3 million Vietnamese and over 55,000 Americans were killed. Vietnam’s war against the United States was one of many that they have fought, but it was the most brutal in its history.
Most of the nation’s population was born after 1975. American tourists will receive a particularly friendly welcome in Vietnam, as many young Vietnamese are admirers of American culture.
After unifying the country, the communist government proceeded to root out the remaining capitalist elements in the south. Many business owners were killed while others, known as the boat people, became refugees and attempted to escape to Western countries, resulting in the establishment of Vietnamese communities in the United States of America, Australia and Canada.
The ethnic Chinese, long resented by the ethnic Vietnamese for their perceived economic clout, were particularly hard-hit by the purges.
Following the collapse of the state-run economy, the government implemented market-oriented reforms and introduced capitalist elements in 1986 with a policy known as đổi mới. This policy has proved highly successful, as it spurred impressive economic growth and infrastructure development.
Discriminatory laws against the remaining ethnic Chinese were repealed, and many have used their business acumen to contribute greatly to the revitalization of the Vietnamese economy, also regaining some of their previous economic dominance in the process.
In recent times, some former refugees or their descendants, most of whom were raised and educated in the West, have also returned to Vietnam in order to take advantage of new economic opportunities.
Today, Vietnam is widely considered to be one of the rising stars of ASEAN with a young population and vibrant economy.
Stay safe and avoid Scams in Saigon
In general, Saigon is a safe city, with violent crimes such as armed robbery being relatively rare. The most common crimes faced by tourists are pickpocketing and snatch theft from motorbikes.
Scam artists operate on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. A person will strike up a friendly conversation claiming they’ve either seen you at the airport or some other tourist place where they work.
Usually they’ll be with other family members who will join the conversation very naturally and once they find out where you’re from they’ll mention that another family member is moving to a city in your country.
You will be invited over for food at their house to help console a worried grandmother or to give advise to their family member. Once you arrive at the house however the family member is not there, or the grandmother has suddenly fallen ill and had to go to the hospital. You’ll be presented with various business opportunities, legal or not, or asked for financial support for the suddenly sick grandmother.
Hotel scams are very common, even in the mid-range price level ~USD20-70. The hotel will remind you that you should place your valuables in the room safe or the hotel safe. Lock up everything that is more or less valuable.
Don’t hold up expensive things near the street or leave them out on the table while you’re having a meal, especially in District 1, especially around the backpacker area. Petty theft is a big problem, and a lot of times it’s done by people on motorbikes. It’s easy to prevent by not giving thieves the opportunity.
Don’t buy sim card before the immigration at the airport, they will charge you $10 for a sim card. After immigration and baggage area, you can find sim card booth. They sell sim card for $6 only.
Don’t buy coconut more than ~USD2, real-price is ~USD0.5. If you are forced, call police: +84 8 3829 7643, +84 8 38299835.
A favourite trick is for the vendors to strike up a conversation with you, let you hold the carrying-stick, take a picture, and while you’re distracted open a coconut for you that you really didn’t ask for.
Also, the prostitutes on Bui Vien and Ton That Tung will try to rob you. Usually, they’ll approach men acting like they’re up to normal prostitute business, but they are to pickpocket.
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