Do-It-Yourself Walking Tour of Dalat, Vietnam – A Perfect Day in Dalat
The first time I took Chopper Suey (my Chinese-made American cruiser bike) on a road trip, was to the sexy hills of Dalat. As we pulled into town, surrounded by pines and fresh cool air, I knew I was going to love the place.
Formerly a retreat town for the French, today Dalat is filled with a lot of very touristy attractions — some of them too touristy to stomach. However, this self-guided walking tour will show you exactly what’s worth seeing. You’ll get a bit of history, some culture, a glimpse into the fertility of the area, and some of that Dalat tackiness that’s worthy of a selfie or two.
Self-Guided Walking Tour of Dalat, Vietnam
The tour starts at the Crazy House (03 Huynh Thuc Khang St), which opens at 8:30AM, but you don’t really need to be there until 10AM. Admission is 40,000 VND.
The Crazy House is a Dalat institute. Officially the Hằng Nga guesthouse, this ever-expanding art project was designed by Vietnamese architect Đặng Việt Nga, who is the daughter of former Vietnam president Trường Chinh. Nga drew inspiration from Antoni Gaudí as well as Dalat’s surrounding nature. Instead of blueprints, the building’s plans were painted, using many curved lines and natural forms. It’s been called a cross between Disney and Salvador Dali. The main building resembles a large banyan tree, while the interiors warp in and out with hardly ever a right-angle.
It’s possible to stay in one of the 10 themed rooms (some for as low as $30/night), but it’s important to remember that the Crazy House is more of a tourist attraction than a guesthouse, so from 8:30AM to 7PM it’s packed with people snapping photos and trying to peak into your room.
After an hour or so, you should probably finish up your visit before you go too crazy.
Heading out the front door, go right and take your 2nd left onto Le Hong Phong. You’ll merge onto Tran Hung Dao (stay right), and then turn left at the next roundabout onto Bà Triệu.
At the bottom of the hill, you’ll pass the park before turning left on Nguyễn Văn Cừ. At your second right you’ll see a sign for Đình Đà Lạt. Head up this small hill then turn left at the top of it. The road is more like a path here. It runs in front of some buildings, then back up a hill to Thu Khoa Thuan, a narrow street that has a few cafes and hostels on it. Turn left there. Keep going until the street meets up with Ba Tháng Hai. There you’ll find An Cafe (there’s an entrance from Thu Khoa Thuan).
An Cafe was the first cafe in Dalat to offer organic food. Both the interior and the outdoor seating offer a relaxing atmosphere.
Coffee is a big deal in Dalat. Even if you’re not a coffee drinker, you should a cup of ca phe sua da (iced coffee with condensed milk) while you’re in the Dalat area, where most of Vietnam’s beans are grown. Traditional Vietnamese coffee is made with robusta beans, but higher quality arabica beans are becoming more popular. If you like espresso, Dalat can scratch that itch. If you’re not big on coffee, an iced coffee with milk is chocolatey and might change your opinion about the 3rd most popular drink in the world.
For more about coffee in Vietnam
If you’re not thirsty, or you prefer a different atmosphere, continue the tour by going right on Ba Tháng Hai. There are many restaurants, cafes, and guesthouses along here. If you’re looking for dinner later on, this area is much cheaper than the food on offer around the market.
Afer 250 meters, the road splits off and you’ll see a large building. This is the 3/4 Cinema (April 3rd Cinema), originally known as the Hoa Binh Theatre. It was built in 1929 when it became the city’s first market.
You want to stay left (which is Khu Hoà Bình), but take the first left turn onto Trương Công Định. Continue as the street curves around. You can peak inside the various bars and make plans for later. You’ll also find a few Easy Rider tourist offices. These motorcycle tours are very famous in Dalat, and would be an unforgetable experience. The original Easy Riders seems to have been lost amongst all the copy-cats, but that’s the Vietnamese way, so it’s almost more authentic to go with one of the companies that stole the name. You can book a tour for the following day, or plan a bike ride to your next destination. If you don’t ride, they even provide drivers.
I prefer a self-guided adventure. We did a ride to Dalat from Saigon, and another one from Dalat to Phan Rang, Mui Ne, Ke Ga, and then back to Saigon. For information about that, check out the links.
After curving around, you want to turn right down an alley by the Beepub. Immediately on the right is Bicycle Up Cafe, another great option for espresso and other coffee drinks. The interior resembles a packed antique shop. You might have to move a typewriter to find a chair. There’s lots to look at inside, but the seats outside of the the front door are also filled with charm.
Being all eclectic and shit. Made it to Dalat where we felt rain for the first time in 6 months. Coffee tastes better when it's raining. #roadtrip #vietnam #travel #traveling #travelgram #instatravel #tourist #wanderlust #travelling #letsgo #lovetravel #traveltheworld #ryansaravietnam #coffee #espresso
You are going to continue down the alley until it ends on Nguyễn Văn Trỗi where you’ll turn right, then take the immediate right onto Khu Hoà Bình. At this corner, you can see the bus stop where you can catch the tourist bus that goes to almost all of Dalat’s attractions. If you are planning a visit to Langbiang, this is the best way to get there.
After turning onto Khu Hoà Bình you are going to take your first left at Mi Linh Hostel. This road leads to a walkway that goes into Dalat Market. Note: the directions on the Google map below don’t take you over the walkway simply because it wouldn’t let me.
The walkway enters the upper part of the market, but you’ll eventually want to head down to the lower level for more exploring and to continue the tour.
This is my #2 market in Vietnam (#1 goes to Ben Tre). Dalat provides a ton of fruits and vegetables to the country. Without the area’s cool weather, much of Vietnam would be missing out on potatoes, strawberries, lettuce, and even coffee (Vietnam’s #2 exported agricultural product).
There is a ton to explore here, so take your time and don’t be afraid to buy some treats. Specialties include: dried sweet potato chips, marmalades and jams, dried fruit candy, candied ginger, artichoke tea, coffee, and so much more.
If you want a meal, cheap eats can be found on the upper floors. Or, just buy some fruit and snack as you walk.
Other than food, you can find clothing, art, and pretty much anything.
When you are satisfied, head to the giant statue in the roundabout.
Dalat has had many nicknames over the years. Looking down the street you’ll see a giant telecommunication tower that might kind of look like the Eiffel tower. Nickname #1: “Little Paris”. Look towards the market and see the various fruits and vegetables. The area’s mild climate allows many of these crops to be grown year round. Nickname #2: “the city of eternal spring”. The statue towering over you shows a pine tree surrounded by women. Most of Vietnam is jungle, but Dalat is filled with pines. Nickname #3: “city of thousands of pine trees”.
Head down the main street (Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai) towards the lake. In the evening, the night market will be setup down here. It’s over-priced, but the atmosphere is fun. You’re going to continue past the roundabout, along the lake, on Lê Đại Hành. Eventually a park will run along the waters. There may be some fishermen along here.
VIDEO: Dalat -- Cool, cool.
Xuan Huong Lake
This man-made lake was built by the French, and originally called Grand Lake. In 1953, the Vietnamese renamed it to Xuan Huong. While the name literally translates to “scent of spring” -- which is an appropriate name for a lake in the “city of eternal spring” -- it’s actually named after a famous Vietnamese poet Xuan Huong.
There are some restaurants on the lake, as well as a place to rent swan paddle boats.
Follow the path left, around the lake until you’re across from a giant square.
It might be a good time to look at your watch. Spoiler alert! You’re going to be taking a train ride soon. It leaves at 2PM. You should have plenty of time still, but if it’s after 1PM, you should skip the next two things and head right to the train station. You’ll be walking back the same way, so you can see these things on your way back.
Otherwise, cross the street into the square.
Lam Vien Square
This giant square is decorated with plants and figures. At the end of the year, Dalat holds a flower festival that mainly takes place here. You’ll see two buildings. One is meant to resemble a wild sunflower, the other an artichoke. You’ll also find a unique Big C Hypermarket underground. This is a popular store in Vietnam. You can find groceries and other household items here.
Leave the square from the east side (the right-side when facing the lake). Cross the street and head into the park.
Doctor Alexandre Yersin is a bit of an icon in Vietnam. Most cities will have a Yersin street. Yersin is said to have discovered Dalat, which of course isn’t accurate as there had been people living in the area for generations, but he did kind of pick it out as a place for the French to escape the heat. As far as legit discoveries go, Yersin did have a great one. He discovered the organism that caused the Bubonic plague.
In the middle of the park you’ll find a stone statue of the doctor. On the back you’ll see a Latin inscription that reads, “Dat Aliis Laetitiam Aliis Temperiem”. This means “give someone happiness, give someone health”, but perhaps the most interesting thing about the quote are the letters that each word starts with: D, A, L, A, T. Some claim the city was named Dalat because of this.
Exit the park, once again from the east side. I believe it’s possible to go right when you hit the small lake, but you might have to go around it the other way. At any rate, you’ll end up on Yersin. Follow this, it will turn into Nguyễn Trãi, until you reach Ga Dalat, aka the Dalat Railway Station.
Dalat Railway Station
The station was built in the 1930s. It was abandoned after much of the line to the coast was destroyed during the Vietnam War, but when tourism came to Vietnam in the 90s, the government fixed up a short stretch and starting running vintage train rides.
Have a look around the Art Deco station. The three peaks are said to represent the three peaks of Langbiang mountain. There’s an old steamer train, and a small cafe in a train. Ultimately, you are here for the short ride to Trai Mat, so be sure to buy your ticket and be on the platform for 2PM.
The train runs only 5 times a day (7:45AM, 9:50AM, 11:55AM, 2:00PM, and 4:05PM). The cost for a round trip ticket is 124,000 VND. It takes you 20-30 minutes, or 7 kilometers, down the tracks to the village of Trai Mat. The old fashioned trains are cool and the scenery is pleasant. If you grab a seat in the back, you can go out onto the platform at the back of the train.
In Trai Mat you will be let out for 45 minutes -- just enough time to see Linh Phuoc Pagoda.
To get to the pagoda, just cross over the tracks and turn right on the main road. After 200 meters, you’ll take a left down a small road. There should be a sign, but I believe it’s the 2nd left from the station. At the end of that street you’ll see the pagoda.
Linh Phuoc Pagoda
My favorite pagoda in Vietnam, Linh Phuoc has been called the Disney Land of Pagodas. It’s tiled with colorful broken bits of ceramic and glass. You can study the walls as you climb the 36 meter tower. From the top there are some great views. On the way back down, stop at the giant bell. Here you can write a wish on a piece of paper, attach it to the bell, and gong it. No guarantees that the wish will come true, but it’s worth a try.
Cross the walkway to the giant standing Buddha. It’s covered in thousands of small flowers. There’s lots more to explore at Linh Phuoc, but make sure you make it back to the train station in time to get the return train.
Back in Dalat, head left out the train station, back to the lake the way you came (turn left when you hit the lake). You can walk along the water until you reach the roundabout after Lam Vien Square. At the roundabout you want to head up the steps to the Dalat Palace Hotel.
Dalat Palace Hotel
The hotel first opened in 1922 after years of planning and construction. It was the first large building in the city, and much of the rest of Dalat was built around it. At the time, it was a symbol of luxury and the dominance that the French had over the Indochinese people. Back then, the exterior was much more ornate, but the following 70 years brought on some deterioration and renovation, and after the Vietnam War the hotel wasn’t well taken care of. However, in 1990 it was bought by the millionaire Larry Hillblom. Hillblom is the H in DHL (the shipping company). He invested a ton of money into the hotel (and many other areas of Southeast Asia). Hillblom eventually went missing after his plane crashed into the ocean. He was presumed dead and a paternity controversy started that involved a lot of twists and turns. Basically, the guy fathered a lot of children across the world.
You can cut through the hotel by going in the front door, confidently walking past the front desk, and then straight out the back door. There’s also a very cool bar in the basement that is called Larry’s. You can get western food here, or just grab a drink. Happy hour is from 5PM-7PM (last I checked the happy hour special was beer for 50,000 VND).
From the back of the hotel, there’s a path that leads to Tran Hung Dao. Turn right and head along here for about 50 meters when it meets up with Tran Phu. On the corner is Cafe de la Poste. This building is one of the oldest in Dalat. You can get expensive food and drink here, but let’s head across the road towards the Du Parc Hotel for some street eats.
Just past the hotel, turn left on Nhà Chung. There are plenty of delicious things to try along here. At this time of the day, not everything may be open, but there should be a banh can place that opens at 4:00PM (maybe even 3PM).
This is a Dalat specialty that is hard to find outside of the city. It’s a pretty simple dish, but quite tasty. Quail’s eggs are fried up in a special pan and served with some shredded vegetables and fruits. It’s a bit hard to describe, but you should try it. Have a look at some photos here.
If you see someone cooking up pizza-like rice paper over a small bucket-like BBQ, you should stop in for a treat. This is banh trang nuong -- grilled rice paper with egg, cheese, green onion, and more. This is a very popular spot with the locals, and it is -- to this day -- the best banh trang nuong I’ve ever had.
After a couple snacks, head back to the main road and go left to the cathedral.
This is the largest church in Dalat. It was completed in 1942. There really isn’t much to see here, but I do love the building’s nickname: chicken church. At the top of the 47 meter bell tower there’s a cross -- of course -- but on top of the cross sits a chicken weather vane that’s said to protect the church. It does act as a lightening rod, so I guess it actually does protect it.
Tour over. You can head down the hill across from the church. This will take you back to the market (at the bottom of the hill turn right then take your first left). Or, if you’re hungry take a left at the bottom of the hill and watch for Chu BBQ, one of my favorite places to eat in Dalat.
I hope this tour works out for you. If there are any things you think I should change, or if you had any problems while doing it, please leave a comment below.