Dalat is quite different from anywhere else you’ll visit in Vietnam. You would almost be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into the French Alps in springtime. This was certainly how the former colonists treated it – escaping to their chalets to enjoy the cooler climate.
The French feel is compounded by a radio mast shaped like the Eiffel Tower and the local bohemian artists’ predilection for swanning around in berets. Dalat is small enough to remain charming, and the surrounding countryside is blessed with lakes, waterfalls, evergreen forests and gardens.
Local products include silk, garden vegetables and flowers (especially beautiful hydrangeas), which are sold all over southern Vietnam. But the biggest contribution to the economy is tourism: more than 800, 000 domestic tourists and another 80, 000 foreigners visit here every year. It’s the country’s favourite honeymoon spot and still retains the final word in Vietnamese kitsch.
The Dalat area was once famous for hunting and a 1950s brochure boasted that ‘a two-hour drive from the town leads to several game-rich areas abounding in deer, roe, peacocks, pheasants, wild boar, black bear, wild caws, panthers, tigers, gaurs and elephants’. So successful were the hunters that all of the big game is now extinct. The closest you’ll get to the formerly diverse fauna are the taxidermied specimens about town.
The city’s population includes about 5000 members of hill tribes, which make up 33 distinct communities in Lam Dong province. Traditional dress can occasionally be spotted in the market places. Hill-tribe women of this area carry their infants on their backs in a long piece of cloth worn over one shoulder and tied in the front.
The City of Eternal Spring, Dalat’s temperature hovers between a pleasant 15°C (average daily minimum) to 24°C (average daily maximum). Effectively Dalat has two seasons – dry (December to March) and wet (April to November). Despite the mild temperatures, by the end of the dry season the lush green surrounds turn to brown. Even in the wet season, mornings normally remain dry – allowing time for sightseeing before the deluge begins.