Travel Weekly reporter Jeri Clausing is experiencing Vietnam for the first time. A report on her experiences follows.
Wow. Dalat. What a surprise. It's easy to see why this is Vietnam's honeymoon capital.
The city is in the Lang Bian Mountains, a bit less than 5,000 feet above sea level. But I'm from Denver, so that doesn't seem particularly high to me.
Everyone kept telling me it would be cool in Dalat, but I assumed that was all relative. But stepping off the plane in the afternoon was like stepping into an air-conditioned room. I was shocked, as we headed up the mountain to the famed Sofitel Dalat Palace, to see scooter drivers in ski jackets.
After a 30-minute drive down a brand-new divided highway (with scooter drivers, unaccustomed to the median, occasionally heading down the wrong way), we were at the hotel.
It's easy to see why this is considered the Paris of Vietnam. Developed by the French as a summer getaway in the early 1900s, the town oozes European elegance. So does the hotel, which still has the original marble tile in the lobby and original bathtubs. There are working fireplaces. Dalat Palace also has the country's first, and one of its finest, golf courses.
Yet, Dalat has not made much of a mark on the international tourism map. The biggest problem attracting tourists is the location, says Dalat Palace manager Tony Chisolm. To get here from the beach resorts, you have to fly to Ho Chi Minh City, then catch one of the small planes that run just twice a day or sit on a bus for hours. Tour agents tell Chisolm that their clients don't want to do that.
I think the trip is well worth the time. Dalat feels like a different country than the Vietnam with the big cities and pristine beaches.
The Dalat Palace sits on a hill over looking a lake, where tourists and residents hang out and enjoy. Visitors can also travel to the mountaintops for views of the city and the surrounding vegetable, fruit and flower farms.
Also, Dalat is the home to a branch of the Pasteur Institute, opened by a protege of microbiologist Louis Pasteur because the climate was good for developing medicine. The mountains also offer a host of outdoors activities, including cycling.