DALAT IS WHERE IT'S AT: Our favorite city in Vietnam
Updated: Nov 8
FROM DANANG TO DALAT
Our 3 month stay in Danang was lovely, all things considered. Yes, there were definitely some stressful moments with a global pandemic raging on and most of our travel plans completely derailed, but all in all, we tried to make the best of it. By June, however, the intense heat in Danang was beginning to wear us all down, despite daily ice cream treats and swims in our rooftop pool...tough life, right?! Seriously, though, walking even short distances in nearly 40 degrees celsius was becoming a challenge, especially for the kids. You know it's time to move on when you'd still rather stay inside all day in your air-con room and order delivery than go outside....even after a 3 week lockdown has been safely lifted, because it's just TOO DAMN HOT.
The solution was simple. We escaped to the central highlands, seeking cooler climates and verdant sceneries. Dalat, with a population of just over 400,000 is a fairly large city with a buzzing centre and lots of tourist attractions. However, with no high-rise buildings or traffic lights, farm fields everywhere and just one large supermarket, it still maintains that small town vibe. Dalat was a welcomed change from beachy, balmy Danang, and our two and a half month stay ended up being the highlight of Vietnam for us.
COVID - 19
After the first covid-19 wave was successfully controlled, with borders strictly closed to foreigners, local tourism began booming throughout the country. Dalat was bursting at the seams with Vietnamese tourists by the time we arrived. However, tourism slowed down significantly by August, when the second wave hit other parts of Vietnam. There were no confirmed cases of covid 19 cases in Dalat during the entire time we were there and most businesses remained open, so we were able to enjoy the city with minimal restrictions.
The weather in July/August was a comfortable mid 20's (celsius) during the day, dipping down to the high teens in the evenings. The locals consider this temperature cold enough for head- to-toe arctic attire, and our usual short sleeves - shorts combo occasionally received some shocking stares. It rained almost daily while in Dalat, but in a very predictable pattern of showers in the late morning and bright sunshine by mid afternoon. Coming from Vancouver, we didn't mind at all! Mosquitos were only a minor problem in the parks or grassy fields, but rarely indoors or when out and about on the city streets.
WHERE WE STAYED
We stayed in two different places. One was ANADA, a very well-run business owned by a Canadian-Vietnamese, and one of THE MOST COMFORTABLE STAYS in all of our travels. Our 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment had high ceilings, a large, well-stocked kitchen, and even a balcony. The price was quite reasonable at 10,000,000 vnd, which works out to about $400 USD/ $600 Cdn a month. (note: prices vary depending on season). The owner also runs a half-day, small-group, homeschooling program with English speaking teachers, so there is a potential option of signing up young kids for a short term (though ours were too old and we didn't feel the need).
We also stayed at another, similarly priced, 2 bedroom apartment in the city centre, conveniently located near the supermarket. Not only was the place immaculately clean, but the owners spoiled us with their incredible hospitality and generosity. This place also had 2 adorable cats visiting regularly from a neighbouring home, and the kids endearingly named them Peaches and Skittles. They were quite the inseparable pair and a constant source of entertainment for Molly and Owen.
WHY WE LOVED DALAT
Aside from the cool weather, cheap food and great places to stay, Dalat has a lot to offer for kids and adults alike. There are plenty of fun things to do, like taking a gondola trip up to a lake, going strawberry picking, or taking an "alpine coaster" to see some waterfalls. There are also lots of unique sights like the surreal "Crazy House" and "Maze Bar", which makes this city all the more weird and wonderful.
As a popular honeymoon destination for locals, Dalat is certainly touristy. However, there is so much more to Dalat than just the main attractions. The longer we stayed, the more we realized that this city was full of hidden surprises tucked in unexpected little corners and alleyways. Cute shops with handmade crafts, quaint coffee shops with sweeping views, and maze-like streets filled with colorful art, were a few of the discoveries we would stumble upon on our walks. There is a certain rustic, bohemian charm that draws you in, making Dalat unlike any other place in Vietnam that we had visited.
We also loved the lively market scene, with plenty of fresh, locally grown produce, thanks to its year-round temperate climate. Many varieties of mangoes, avocados, and dragonfruit were cheap and easy to find. Organic farms are also abundant, and they even have a small but lively farmer's market held every weekend.
Beyond all of the above, why we loved Dalat also had a lot to do with the fact that we were always in great company. Not only did we reunite with our Canadian friends from Alberta, but we were fortunate to have met other wonderful families, including Dalat locals. Traveling has a special way of connecting you with people, even more so during difficult circumstances such as navigating a pandemic in a foreign country. Molly and Owen had plenty of friends to play with, which is always a big bonus when you are traveling long term with kids.
We also found the people of Dalat to be very kind, but then again, this speaks for all of Vietnam. Not a lot of people speak as much English as in the bigger cities but we didn't have any trouble getting around or purchasing food. A small expat population does exist, such as digital nomads, english teachers and small business owners.
Dalat was dreamy. Big enough for endless exploration, small enough not to feel lost and overwhelmed. With friendly folks, locally grown produce galore, a strong coffee culture, cheap lodging, delicious food options, lots of family friendly sights and outdoor activities, this city won our hearts. We had a hard time saying goodbye, after what felt like the closest thing to "home" that we've felt since the start of our travels. If there was one place we would go back to in Vietnam, it would no doubt be Dalat. We look forward to that day!