15 Best Sights in Dalat, The South-Central Coasts and Highlands

100 Roof Bar

Also known as the Maze Bar, this phantasmagorical labyrinth, featuring a popular bar at the top (if you can find it!), was designed by renowned architect Dang Viet Nga (designer of the Crazy House). It looks unremarkable from the outside, but upon entry you'll plunge down, up, and through winding corridors, paradoxical pathways, and dead ends; if in doubt, just follow the noise to find the bar. The entrance fee is the price of a drink (a glass of beer starts at 30,000d).

Bao Dai's Summer Palace

Built in 1933, Bao Dai's Summer Palace, on the south side of Xuan Huong Lake, is a wonderfully preserved example of modernist architecture. The palace houses the original 1930s French furnishings of Emperor Bao Dai, the last emperor of the Nguyen dynasty, who ruled from 1926 to 1945 with the support of the French. With hundreds of visitors tramping through each week, the palace is showing its age. If you manage to avoid a big tour group, it's possible to find a quiet spot that feels like it's been suspended in time. For a kitsch souvenir, you can have your photo taken wearing a traditional royal getup.

1 Trieu Viet Vuong, Dalat, Vietnam
Sights Details
Rate Includes: 30,000d

Central Market

Originally built in 1929 and rebuilt in 1937 after a fire, the Central Market is the heart of Dalat. Locals and tourists come to the indoor–outdoor market to buy and sell fruit, vegetables, and local specialties such as dried fruit, fruit candy, flowers, mulberry wine, and jam. It's also a great place to check out the crops introduced by the French that only grow in Dalat's cool climate, like strawberries and artichokes. Unlike markets in a lot of Vietnam's other major destinations, the sellers here aren't pushy in the slightest, allowing browsers to browse. The main part of the two-story market is open from before dawn until nightfall. At sundown, a food town springs up outside the market and down the steps beside it. The specialty is banh trang Dalat, almost like a pizza on rice paper, barbecued, rolled up, and wrapped in a piece of newspaper.

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Crémaillère Railway

In 1933, 30 years after work started, a 105-km (65-mile) cog railway line was completed, linking Dalat to Nha Trang and Saigon. The line was closed in 1969 due to bomb attacks during the war, and the track ripped up sometime after the war ended in 1975. Twenty years later, a 7-km (4-mile) section of the track was restored and the wonderful art deco railway station renovated. Now it's possible to take the train (which now uses diesel traction) to the village of Trai Mat, home to the Linh Phuoc Pagoda. The round-trip takes two hours, although actually catching the train can prove tricky. It only departs once 25 people have bought tickets so it's best to get your hotel to call ahead to check the state of play. The railway station itself is architecturally interesting, with the three roofs representing the peaks of Lang Biang mountain while also paying tribute to the high pointed roofs of traditional Central Highlands communal houses. Vietnam's last steam locomotive sits at the station, serving as a basic coffee shop. The station and the locomotive are popular with wedding photographers, especially during the wedding "season" that runs from November to January.

1 Quang Trung, Dalat, Vietnam
Sights Details
Rate Includes: 5,000d to enter train station. Train tickets are 110,000d for nonresidents

Dalat Crazy House

This psychedelic flight of architectural whimsy will probably be the wackiest thing you see in Vietnam, which is saying something, given the local penchant for quirkiness. Free-form stairs and tunnels wend their way through multistory Dr. Seuss–like concrete trees that contain 10 hotel rooms, unexpected sitting areas, and concrete animals. Its owner and designer, Dr. Dang Viet Nga, who studied architecture in Russia, built the structure to remind people of the importance of nature and the environment.

Some of the staircases are very steep and the railings quite low. People who are unsteady on their feet or in charge of small children should be very careful.

Datanla Falls

One of Dalat's more easily accessible waterfalls, Datanla Falls is 5 km (3 miles) south of the city. The entrance is near the top of the falls and an easy 15-minute walk takes you down to the bottom. The more adventurous can reach the bottom by riding a toboggan through the trees down the valley (80,000d per person).

Deo Prenn, Dalat, Vietnam
Sights Details
Rate Includes: 30,000d

Dinh An Village (Chicken Village)

A K'Ho ethnic minority village, Dinh An has found itself on the tourist radar mainly because of its proximity to the highway and its giant concrete chicken. The village is often included in easy rider tours, and is only really worth visiting as one stop on a day-long exploration of the countryside surrounding Dalat. The village itself is quite spread out, with most families involved in small-scale farming of vegetables and flowers. The villagers don't wear their traditional dress, which disappoints some visitors, but keep in mind that they receive minimal benefit from tourists trooping through. There's a couple of small handicraft shops and a tiny grocery store across from the chicken statue. The chicken itself, which in its glory days was a fountain but is now propped up with an extra concrete leg, is from the local Romeo and Juliet legend for which the Langbian Mountain is named. Her Bian was a girl from a southern highlands village who fell in love with K'Lang, a boy from a northern highlands village. The villages were at war so the parents of the love-struck couple would not allow them to marry. Her Bian's parents finally relented, telling K'Lang he could marry their daughter if he found a chicken with nine spurs as the dowry. K'Lang went to the forest but he could not find a chicken with nine spurs (the rear-facing claw). So the couple eloped and lived in the forest until they died, cut off from their families. Dinh An Village is 9 km (5½ miles) from the airport and can be visited en route to Dalat rather than by making the 18 km (11 mile) trip from Dalat.

Elephant Falls

About 30 km (19 miles) southwest of Dalat, these 30-meter-high waterfalls (one large and several smaller falls) are a popular stop on easy rider countryside tours. The mossy path down to the viewing area can be treacherous in the rainy season and challenging in the dry season, but once there, the views are impressive. It takes about 45 minutes to get the falls, which are just outside the village of Nam Ban. There's a coffee shop and handicraft shop at the waterfalls. Take the time to check out the textiles woven on-site by a K'Ho family. Also wander next door to the Linh An Pagoda, a peaceful working temple with hydrangeas and pine trees in the garden and a giant Happy Buddha (which doubles as a storage shed for garden supplies) out the back. The pagoda is closed for lunch from 12 to 1:30 pm.

Gia Lam, Dalat, Vietnam
Sights Details
Rate Includes: 30,000d

Lake of Sighs

The Lake of Sighs, northeast of town, takes its name from a tale of two star-crossed lovers, Hoang Tung and Mai Nuong. According to legend, Hoang Tung joined the army, but Mai Nuong thought she had been abandoned. Out of despair, she killed herself by jumping into the lake. On discovering her body, her lover did the same. Access to the lake is via a kitschy theme park that may entertain children for several hours. The extensive grounds contain flower gardens, statues designed for photo-posing, coffee stalls, concrete animals, and replica village huts.

Ho Xuan Huong, Dalat, Vietnam
Sights Details
Rate Includes: 50,000d

Lam Ty Ni Pagoda

The multitalented, multilingual monk Thay Vien Thuc, known as the Mad Monk of Dalat, resides in this small Lam Ty Ni Pagoda. An artist, poet, landscape architect, craftsman, and religious scholar, Vien Thuc is a living legend. If you manage to visit when Vien Thuc is present, he will usually escort you through his rooms of watercolor paintings, replete with Zen poetry, and may even paint a picture for you in exchange for a small fee. When the monk is absent, the pagoda can be a bit disappointing.

2 Thien My, Dalat, Vietnam
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Rate Includes: Free

Linh Phuoc Pagoda

More commonly known as Dragon Pagoda, the gaudy Linh Phuoc Pagoda is in Trai Mat, a village 7 km (4½ miles) northeast of Dalat (accessible by road or the tourist train). Completed in 1952, the colorful pagoda is known for the inlaid pieces of broken glass throughout and the 49-meter-long dragon made from 12,000 beer bottles, as well as for its bell and 36-meter-high bell tower. This is an amazing piece of architecture worth exploring even by those suffering temple fatigue.

Thien Vuong Co Sat Pagoda

The Chinese Thien Vuong Pagoda, southeast of town, sits atop a steep mountain with great views of the surrounding area. The pagoda was built in 1958 by the Chaozhou Chinese congregation. Three large, Hong Kong–made gilded sandalwood sculptures dominate the pagoda in the third of the three buildings, and peaceful gardens surround the complex.

Truc Lam Pagoda & Cable Car

This peaceful Zen Buddhist pagoda, about 5 km (3 miles) from central Dalat, sits on top of Phuong Hoang Hill, and the best way to get here is via the beautiful cable car ride, with views of farmlands, pine forests, mountains, and lakes (100,000d round-trip). Completed in 1994, the 24-hectare complex includes a working monastery in a section that's closed to the public, as well as a meditation center. The public areas include a ceremonial hall, bell tower, beautiful flower garden, cafe, and vegetarian buffet restaurant. The pagoda is next to Tuyen Lam Lake, and the 15-minute stroll down to shore is pleasant.

Day visits to the meditation center relatively easy to arrange, although are best done in person a day or two in advance, since every guest needs to be approved by the Grand Master. Longer stays are possible but require some complicated paperwork. The monks and nuns can explain the steps involved.

Valley of Love

A superb example of how Dalat won its reputation as a kitschy destination, the Valley of Love is a pseudo theme park popular with honeymooning Vietnamese couples for photographs with "cute" man-made backdrops. Set in a valley that leads down to a lake, the park can keep younger kids entertained for quite a while, with fairground rides, a miniature train, swan-shaped pedal boats, and carriages drawn by very skinny horses. Older kids might enjoy paintball and jeep rides. The main attraction for adults is not the views but the opportunity to observe local life.

7 Mai Anh Dao, Dalat, Vietnam
Sights Details
Rate Includes: 250,000d (includes shuttle, rides and shows)

Xuan Huong Lake

Circumscribed by a walking path, Xuan Huong Lake is a hub of leisurely activity, including swan-shape paddleboats. Although there's traffic nearby, the lake provides a pleasant place to walk and bike. The dam-generated lake takes its name from a 17th-century Vietnamese poet known for her daring attacks on the hypocrisy of social conventions and the foibles of scholars, monks, mandarins, feudal lords, and kings.