Dalat changed a lot these last few years.
After a flight with the national company, Vietnam Airlines, on Friday morning at 10:30 am, we arrive less than an hour after to the airport of Da Lat. Located pretty far away from the city center, near 35 kilometers (Remember that in Vietnam, a journey is not calculated by the number of kilometers, but by the state of its roads!), several options are available: the cheapest one is the airport shuttle bus, which takes about 1 hour to reach the center (Ngoc Phat Hotel, close to the lake) and costs around 2 USD; you also can take a taxi, but the price will be doubled; the last but not least option, because it is the most practical (cheap and easy to choose) is to rent a motorbike directly at the airport and start your trip with the Pongour Waterfalls situated only 20 kilometers from the airport.
October is a rainy month, so the waterfalls are quite impressive. Pongour is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Vietnam, with Cao Bang. You need to walk down the waterfall and why not organize a picnic?
If you want to avoid the picnic next to the waterfalls, we advise you some "Banh Xeo", a crispy, stuffed rice pancake, prepared by an old lady in a street restaurant located few kilometers from the waterfalls.
Then, if you are adventurous, we suggest you stop by the Elephant Falls as it is on the way to go to the city center. The way to the parking lot at the foot of the waterfall is quite dangerous, so be careful.
After 30 minutes on a lovely mountain road, the hotel appears. We urge you to take some hot clothes: at 5 pm, when the sun goes down, it may be cold outside (less than 20 degrees). The hotel, the Ana Villas, which is located in a huge forest surrounded by 20 colonial-style villas, is beautiful. We are in France.
After this long day, the dinner awaits at the hotel. A small disappointment. Service is poor, prices are too high. It was previously managed by the hotel "Ana Mandara" chain, but it seems to be no longer the case.
The second day begins with the Domaine de Marie, which is a Catholic convent with a Normandy's touch, just 5 minutes away from the Ana Villas. Close to it, the bird’s convent, which is more Art-Deco style, is a very popular place where the empress put her daughters at school.
The Cathedral is not far away. The French touch is still present: its stained glasses imported from France. The Summer Residence of the last Emperor, Bao Dai, is on the to-do list for today. The palace is also in an Art-Deco style, inspired by Le Corbusier, a Swiss-French architect. Just near, in the same style, the Pasteur Institute. Yersin, a physician and bacteriologist well-known in Vietnam, has developed the city.
Our visits continue with the Crazy House, inspired by Gaudi. Gaudi is a Vietnamese woman, who was born in 1945. She is the daughter of the Prime Minister of the Communist Party on duty until 1956. She studied in the USSR and built this house in the ’80s inspired by nature. So Crazy. Near the Crazy House is settling a restaurant, called Le Chalet. The atmosphere and decoration are nice as well as the choice of food and beverage - local and international.
The city of Da Lat is also well-known for its strawberries that we pick in greenhouses on the journey to the Lycee Yersin, a kind of an American campus, in Vietnam. Opened in 1927 by the French architect Paul Moncet, only French students were accepted in the first 10 years. Nowadays, everybody can apply to this highschool.
The French Quarter is close to the Lycee, so let's enjoy the villas from Alsace or Normandy for several minutes. Da Lat is very different than the rest of Vietnam because of its French architecture and atmosphere.
The Da Lat train station, where you should go after, was built in 1932. It is a copy of the Deauville Train station in Normandy. French inspirations you have said?
Its time to go back to the hotel, take a bath, and drink a glass of wine while watching the sunset. The Night Market is crowded. The culinary specialty in Da Lat is the Vietnamese pizza. However, our heart chose the Italian one at the Primavera Restaurant.
The last day is shorter, so we start with the Pagoda Linh Phuong. Thousands of ceramics cover it. Close to the pagoda is located a very beautiful Caodaist Temple. The Caodaism is a monotheistic syncretic religion officially established in the city of Tây Ninh in southern Vietnam in 1926.
After driving 15 minutes, the Palace Dinh 1 of the emperor Bao Dai appears: the garden is beautiful as well as the house with its own furniture. Bao Dai was the last emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty.
For the last lunch, we chose the Da Lat Train Café.
It is time to say goodbye to Da Lat, by motorbike, on a beautiful mountain road.