• The Hydrangea Garden is the hottest photo spot for the locals and Thai tourists. 
  • Datanla is a popular spot for rafting and zipline.
  • Domaine de Marie Church is inspired by the 17thcentury cathedrals in Normandy.
  • Da Lat Night Bazaar is lined with hundreds of stalls selling winter clothes and street food.
  • Doha Cafe is Da Lat’s new landmark and designed to resemble an artichoke, one of the major crops in the area
  • Linh Phuoc Pagoda is famous for its astonishing mosaic murals.
  • Linh Phuoc Pagoda is famous for its astonishing mosaic murals.
  • For an adrenaline high, ride a roller coaster to Datanla Waterfall

Holiday in the hills

World November 24, 2018 01:00

By Pattarawadee Saengmanee
The Nation Weekend
Da Lat, Vietnam

6,343 Viewed

A former playground of the French, Da Lat is the jewel of Vietnam's South Central Highlands



DUBBED THE Little Paris, the hilly town of Da Lat in southern Vietnam is blessed by year-round cool breezes and constantly bathed in a sea of mist, making it a popular holiday escape both for locals and visitors from overseas.

Discovered by French bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin in 1893 and developed by the French in the early 1900s, it boasts colonial architecture that draws on both French and Swiss designs, giving the resort an Alpine feel. 

Luxury chateau-style hotels and boutique accommodation take visitors back to the first decade of the 1900s and Da Lat’s heyday as a classy resort town for the elite.

The Hydrangea Garden is the hottest photo spot for the locals and Thai tourists. 

Standing at 1,500 meters above sea level, it’s now home to massive verdant fields of artichokes, strawberries, persimmons, potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes, asparagus, lavender and hydrangeas, all of which love the climate and temperatures that range from 9 to 28 degrees Celsius. 

“The French army occupied Saigon but the Europeans had problems coping with the hot and humid weather and the mosquitoes. So, the French went into the rural areas of this southern region and turned Da Lat into a place where they could enjoy a terrific climate the whole year. We have two seasons here – blue skies and occasional light rain during the day and chilly nights,” says local guide Thai Mac Vi Tien, who invites us to call her Cat, her nickname. 

“The city’s name means river of the Lat tribe and it has been home to several hill tribes for centuries. Vietnam was under French colonial rule until 1954 and divided into northern and southern Vietnam during the American War. Plenty of Vietnamese left their homes and fled to Thailand, while some of the residents from the central region relocated to Da Lat. Today, the town has about 5,000 residents.”

Surrounded by dense jungle, Datanla Waterfall is a gateway to Da Lat and draws both Vietnamese families and foreigners with such fun attractions as a free jump, rafting and a zip line through the trees.

For an adrenaline high, ride a roller coaster to Datanla Waterfall.

There are several ways to reach this 100-metre high waterfall. Visitors can spend 15 to 20 minutes trekking along the trail or board the cable car for a five-minute ride. We choose to ride the self-controlled, two-seat roller coaster, a system unique to Da Lat.

Safely strapped in, we learn how to use the hand pedal to adjust speed and stop before zooming off on a breathtaking ride that sees us take the curves taken at 40 kilometres per hour. Visitors can pay VND 35,000 (Bt50) for a one-way ride and VND 45,000 for a return trip.

Back in the town, meanwhile, we observe group after group of Vietnamese youngsters dressed in South Korean-style overcoats posing for photographs in front of Da Lat Railway Station – fashion shoots, our guide tells us.

Erected in 1932 and opened for operation in 1938, this art deco-style building is the collective brainchild of French architects Moncet and Reveron and is inspired by the native Cao Ngyuen communal houses of ethnic minorities from Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

The station was abandoned during Vietnam War and returned to service in 1990s to promote tourism. With its stunning multicoloured glass windows and three roofs resembling the three peaks of Lang Biang Mountain, it was named a national historical monument in 2001.

Catch a train from Da Lat Railway Station for the scenic sevenkilometre ride to Trai Mat. 

Last year, it introduced a daily seven-kilometre service –the Da Lat Plateau Rail Road – between the town and the village of Trai Mat, treating visitors to the sight of row after row of vegetable gardens, small hamlets and historical sites all along the route.

It’s also home to a vintage coffee house adapted from old bogies where while waiting for the train visitors can buy handmade keepsakes and self-portraits quickly sketched by a local artist.

The temperature drops to 17 degrees Celsius when the sun sets, perfect for a shopping trip to Da Lat Night Bazaar. Spread all along Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, the market is populated by hundreds of local vendors selling cheap winter clothes and accessories mixed in with stalls offering a variety of tasty treats. We sample an interesting crispy Vietnamese pizza with a variety of toppings, soymilk paired with home-made French pastries and some coconut candy known as keo chi dua. 

Woken very early by the sound of several horns being honked the next morning, I cover the short distance from the historical Du Parc Hotel Da Lat where I am staying for two nights, to the iconic Da Lat Cathedral in no time. Constructed between 1931 and 1942, it’s also known as the Rooster Church thanks to a large rooster statue installed on top of its bell tower. The peaceful interior boasts 70 stained glass panels brought over from France and has a statue of the Virgin Mary at the gate. 

Da Lat Cathedral stands at the very heart of the town.

Walking back to the hotel once the morning rush hour has started, I get stuck in the middle of the road with horn-blowing motorcycles coming at me from every direction. Crossing the street seems to be impossible even in small Vietnamese towns but a friend takes hold of my hand and urges me to keep walking and learn to trust Vietnamese motorcyclists. Apparently they are good at reading the minds of pedestrians and measuring walking speed but hate using their brakes. I’m not sure I believe this but make it to the other side without being knocked over. 

I feel considerably safer during the 20-minute drive to the suburb of Lac Duong and my harrowing memories fade completely once we arrive at the Hydrangea Garden that stretches as far as the eyes can see. It’s like a wonderland, where tourists can dive into a sea of giant purple hydrangeas and find the best spot for taking selfie. 

“Hydrangeas are blooming the whole year thanks to Da Lat’s cool weather. When it first opened, there was free access to the garden and many of the blossoms were damaged by tourists. The owner decided to set up a photo shoot zone for which visitors pay VND15,000 to enter,” Cat says. 

“Apart from hydrangeas, this month is also the season for Mexican sunflowers and persimmons. Da Lat is famous for artichoke tea that’s good for cleansing the liver and relaxing the mind.”

The Hydrangea Garden is the hottest photo spot for the locals and Thai tourists. 

Two kilometres away from the hydrangea garden is the highly revered Linh Phuoc Pagoda, another delight for the eyes with its fine colourful mosaic murals. Built between 1949 and 1952, it greets visitors with a 49-metre-long dragon’s head made from 12,000 glass bottles. 

The main hall is adorned with cobblestone mosaics and bas-reliefs that depict the story of the Lotus Sutras and of Shakyamuni. Another attraction is the seven-floor bell tower housing an 18-metre-high golden statue of Guanyin fitted out with 600,000 paper flowers. Pilgrims write their wishes on yellow paper and ring the bell three times to pay homage to Buddha. 

That afternoon, back in downtown Da Lat, we drop by the Domaine de Marie Church. Built in the 1940s, its design is reminiscent of Normandy’s 17th-century cathedrals. 

Featuring pink limestone walls, stained glass windows and a three-metre-tall statue of the Virgin Mary, the church is home to the Roman Catholic nuns of the Mission of Charity. 

Our sightseeing tour ends at Doha Cafe, a new landmark opposite Xuan Huong Lake. Made from green glass, this coffee house is designed to resemble an artichoke flower and serves a selection of western snacks along with coffee and smoothies.

The writer travelled courtesy of KTC World Travel Service. 

  

IF YOU GO

>> Thai Vietjet operates flights between Bangkok and Da Lat on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. 

>> For reservations, go to www.bookvietjetair.com.