Dalat

Published on December 18th, 2011

10

Dalat: My Own Private Shangri-La

For more than a year now it’s been but a dream. Just a digital figment of my imagination.  Early on in my Googley research of my chosen adopted country (Vietnam) I stumbled across the speck of a town called “Dalat” and – when I learned of its reputed “City of Spring” climate (that nicely matched my own delightfully “temperate” Pacific Northwest) I was hooked.  Indeed, the one stumbling block to my decision to settle in Vietnam (or most anywhere in Southeast Asia for that matter) was the climate.  Verily the entire region is pretty much all s.u.l.t.r.y hot and humid.  Ugh, my most unfavorite climate.

Ah but not so, dear diminutive Dalat (to quote its brief Wikipedia entry):

“The city’s temperate weather stands in contrast to Vietnam’s otherwise tropical climate. Mist covering the valleys almost year-round leads to its name ‘City of eternal spring’.”

Even better, Wiki goes on to say:

“Da Lat’s specific sights are pine wood (forming the name: “City of thousands of pine trees”) with twisting roads and tree marigold (Vietnamese: dã quỳ) blossom in the winter.”

DalatPanorama678x170

In short, about as close to the picture postcard setting I’d so grown to love in my beloved Seattle.  Not acres of the PNW’s ubiquitous Doug Firs mind you.  But EVERGREENS nonetheless.  And I mean, who’s going to quibble over PINE vs. FIR trees smack-dab in the middle of Southeast Asia?

Thus began my obsessive (and otherwise utterly unsubstantiated) preoccupation with somehow making Dalat my new home.

Fast forward a dozen months (including nearly two here already in Vietnam!) and last week I finally made it to the “chosen land”.  Acky CELTA happily behind me, 48 hrs. later I grabbed my woolen socks and turtleneck, and hopped on a bus bound for my own personal Shangri-La: Dalat.

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Just 10 bucks for the 8 hr. ride

Situated just shy of a mile high in elevation, what a delight to leave the sooty swarms of Saigon motorscooters (shameful alliteration intended) behind, and head up, up into the cool highlands of Vietnam.  Less than 200 miles northeast of HCMC, the twisty narrow roads nonetheless made the going mighty slow, and the ride took what seemed an interminable 8 hrs.  Suffice to say I forthwith wisened up and… for but $30 more, I later opted to FLY back to HCMC in just 45 minutes!

Developed by the French in the 1890’s as a hill station escape from the heat in the lowlands, they endowed Dalat with villas and boulevards, and its Swiss-like charms remain today.  Not surprisingly, it’s a major tourist destination BUT… not for foreigners and backpackers (though a few do stumble in from time to time on their merry way to HCMC from the beaches at Nha Trang – just 4 hrs. drive to the east.)  Rather it’s a haven for LOCAL VIETNAMESE who flock here in the summer for the cool climes and the “romantic” setting.

Everywhere you look, the setting does indeed inspire thoughts of French alpine villages, and Xuan Huong lake in the center of town (not to mention the towering faux “Eiffel” that pierces the skyline like an inverted exclamation point) with it’s fanciful “swan” rental boats seals the deal on “romance”.

Indeed, for me it was surely “love at first sight”.  Even better than I imagined.  The climate downright CHILLY and I was lovin’ it in my fleece jacket after weeks in the tropics.  Better yet – intermittent RAIN – the wondrous MISTY variety so familiar in wintry Seattle.  I tell ya – I was in pure HEAVEN!

With a population of little more than 200,000 I was surprised that the town seemed much bigger than I expected.  That’s a GOOD thing in my book, as I feared it might be a tad too small for this Seattleite.  But not so, there seems to be plenty to explore and lots of activity.  And I jumped right into all of it within an hour of stepping off the bus.

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My hotel in Dalat – aptly named… why “The Pink House”

My hotel (at just $14) was super, and the owner invited me to join him and a small group of travelers for dinner at a nearby restaurant the moment I arrived.  He even sprang for Bananas Flambe for all of us for dessert!  Next morning I (wisely) hired one of the hotel staff to take me ’round on his motorbike to all the English schools in Dalat.  It was absolutely BRILLIANT as he knew ever blessed school from small little “mom ‘n pop” English academies to Dalat University (apparently among the most revered in all of Asia).  Had I tried to do it on my own, I couldn’t have read a single sign to even know where the English schools were!  Furthermore, he patiently served as my interpreter when I introduced myself to the various school managers.  In short – I’m confident that there are many options for teaching English in Dalat.

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Uh… anybody… ANYbody know the word “SILK”???

Teachy chores completed, that night I met a fine German lad and we set out the next day on a rented motorbike ($5 for the day), heading first to the “Crazy House”, and after took a cable car up, up, up for fabulous views of Dalat and the surrounding countryside.  There was also a geocache hidden at the top of the cable car ride, so (of course) I grabbed it.  We then headed out of town about an hours drive northwest to the village of Cuong Hoan where there was allegedly a silk factory.  Only trouble wazzz… We failed to bring a Vietnamese phrasebook and – not a blessed soul (even at the local school) spoke a single word of English (much less knew the word “silk”)!

SilkFactory350x222Nonetheless we had great fun bumbling about the village til we finally found the silk factory.  And it indeed was quite a remarkable place.  I’d been to a silk weaving village in Thailand years ago (even munched on some freshly boiled silk worms!) But this was a commercial, mechanized set up (albeit archaically so.)

After shooting a bazillion pics (you can see the whole bunch – kindly edited down to 70 on my Through the Eyes of TravelnLass site) we biked to the nearby “Elephant Falls”, tiptoed through an enchanting Buddhist pagoda, and then headed back to Dalat just before dark.  After all the Pho in Saigon, I was in the mood for Western fare, so we tucked into a delish artichoke-chicken pizza and after… both opted for a 30 minute full-body massage on the walk back to the hotel – for just 50,000 dong each (about $2.35!!!)

Needless to say, Dalat turned out to be everything I imagined and more.  And I’m fairly certain that’s precisely where I’ll head when I return from my 3 week Christmas holiday in Sumatra next week.  It truly is the perfect little Southeast Asian nook for me to settle down in for awhile.

Speaking of… (Sumatra), as I sit here leisurely pecking this post, it suddenly dawns on me that I have but *3 days* til I fly there next week, and I have verily ZIP plans (much less arrangements, much less reservations!) other than some vague notion of flying into Medan and making my way to an orangutan. And it’s CHRISTMAS!!! Good grief, this could be a DISASTER!

Ah well, no doubt it will be a most unusual Christmas indeed…


About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!



10 Responses to Dalat: My Own Private Shangri-La

  1. Marty Johnson says:

    Hello – I have been researching places to escape to for an early retirement. I am 49 male, but have a retirement of about $1500/month. I am curious if that is sufficient for living in Dalat? I know the town has grown significantly recently and am not sure what it costs to rent a 1 bedroom apartment or small house in a safe area? Do you think it would be possible to find another expat to share a house with?
    I am also curious what the expat community looks like? Are there any foreigners living there in my age range? I was also interested to see how much of the local language you have picked up? And have you had any reasons to go the local hospital or doctors and if so, how has that been?

    Thanks for any feedback!

    -Marty

    • Dyanne says:

      Thanks for dropping by Marty. Though I (reluctantly) left dear, dear Dalat more than a year ago (only because I feared I could never hope to become even halfway proficient in the insufferably hard Vietnamese language), I can tell you with confidence that yes, $1,500 is plenty to live comfortably in Dalat. Do read more of my Vietnam posts here, and you’ll find pics and details of my wondrous L’Auberge Ami guesthouse (esp. check my “Chiang Mai? Dalat? Which Izzz it?”) I paid $400 per month there, and that was a bit high for Dalat. Food and motorbike transport too, is very economical. But of course it’s the same all over Vietnam – or for that matter Asia in general.

      That said, there really is very little in the way of an expat community in Dalat. The school I taught EFL at (American Academy) had only 5 expat/native English teachers – and that’s the largest English school in Dalat. No, definitely not at all like the number of expats in Ho Chi Minh City or Chiang Mai Thailand. So if it’s expat community you’re looking for, Dalat may not be for you.

      P.S. Re: a “safe” area? Trust me Marty – every blessed corner of Dalat is extremely safe!

  2. I think you found a place you could live. I’m checking it out in Feb. to see if I like the town because I know I’ll like the climate. I hope this isn’t a silly question, but did you notice any air pollution in Dalat?

    • travelnlass@gmail.com says:

      @fourletternerd – sorry I’ve dallied in replying to you inquiry. Not a silly question at all (given that the air quality in many of these Asian cities leaves much to be desired, yes?)

      Though I don’t have stats/scientific evidence of the air quality in Dalat, I’m confident that it’s quite good as the town isn’t very big (just 200,000 population) and is situated at nearly a mile high.

      In any case, I found it to be absolutely delightful and I live for the day when I can move there permanently (am presently teaching in HCMC for 6 months.)

  3. Dalene says:

    That looks/sounds awesome! Glad you found your shangri-la! I’m like you, the tropical weather is not my chosen one as well. Hope it all works out! 🙂

  4. Mary Moss says:

    Yeah..another post! I’m thrilled Dalat is everything you imagined it to be (especially since I have a very similar set of geographical criteria). I am excited at the prospects of you being able to choose from a variety of teaching positions. (Again… a selfish viewpoint:-) Have a wonderful time in Sumatra!

  5. Paul says:

    I see you also Found the one geocache in Dalat – and that you finally broke the 1,000 mark. 🙂 Keep having fun and writing these great posts.

    • travelnlass@gmail.com says:

      @Paul – yup the solo cache in Dalat (though… that um, might change once the globalgirl settle’s down there) 😉

      And about breaking the “1,000″ find mark – shoot, I’m way past 1k finds now but stopped logging smileys more than 4 years ago (see my gc.com profile for the “why” of it.) Now that I’m safely 8,000 miles away, I figure it can’t hurt to log my finds again – though, much like you, I don’t cache nearly as avidly as I once did.

  6. Wow, I looked at all the terrific pics you took! Super duper shots! Gorgeous place!

    • travelnlass@gmail.com says:

      @Gail (a.k.a. “Sis”) Thanks, glad you enjoyed the pics. Yes, Dalat is surely a unique Southeast Asian corner to tickle the toes of a die-hard Pacific Northwest Yankee girl!

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