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Monday Escape: Dalat, Vietnam

Dalat575

For a Monday Escape destination we usually highlight a place that is at least somewhat known to the average North American or European resident, but today we are going a bit deeper for a place that is not well known until you actually begin researching a trip to Southeast Asia. Dalat is one of Vietnam’s “hill stations” (former Colonial mountain getaways) and it’s a fantastic stop on any trip to the region.

The single feature that makes Dalat (or Da Lat) stand out from most of the rest of Vietnam is that it’s located in the mountains, at about 1500m, which is high enough to keep the climate very moderate throughout the year. It’s not until you spend time in the sea-level cities of Vietnam that you realize how significant this is. Blazing heat and high humidity are present through the country almost the entire year round, so a bit of a cool-off in a charming hill town is very welcome to most.

The vibe in Dalat

The city center for tourists in Dalat is tiny, really only a few blocks in one section of town, but the city itself is fairly spread out and quite dense as well. One unfortunate thing is that even though it’s in the mountains, the streets are lined with 5-story buildings so from the street you almost never get much of a view of anything. On the other hand, there is a charming small-town feel to Dalat, especially compared to Hanoi and Saigon.

Aside from the weather perhaps the most significant thing about Dalat is that its food scene has retained far more of the elegance of France than anywhere else in the country. As a former resort for the French army, among others, Dalat has more than its fair share of Continental restaurants. The fact that most of them are completely indoors (quite rare for Vietnam) contributes to the more upscale feeling, but the quality of food and its French-influenced preparation do as well.

The Dalat of today is actually a very busy resort town for middle-class Vietnamese, and this also gives it an interesting quality. For the typical Western tourist the hotel scene in the country seems totally dedicated to foreigners, but in Dalat there are dozens of hotels that rarely, if ever, see Western tourists.

Just wandering the hilly streets and checking out the local markets is enough to keep most people busy for quite a while, but beyond that you can also take tours to various sites in the hills nearby. The standard tour will take guests to a coffee plantation, a rice whisky distillery, a waterfall, plus a couple of ornate temples. Including lunch the cost is only around US$15 for the day, so very worthwhile.

The cost of living in Dalat

Like pretty much everywhere else in Vietnam, things are incredibly cheap in Dalat. As long as it’s not a local holiday you’ll find that tourist hotels start at around US$10 per night per room, usually including breakfast. There are many nicer places charging far more as well, with great value all the way up the scale.

Meals start at around US$2 and are almost always US$5 or less, even at most of the fancier places. You can even get a small bahn mi sandwich from a street vendor for around US$0.50. A local beer will cost around US$1.50 for a big bottle, and Dalat even produces wine (even though the grapes are grown well outside of town). A glass of the cheapest stuff should be under US$2 in most restaurants, though the better stuff will cost a bit more.

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