The cool mountain city in the Central Highlands of Vietnam

The cool mountain city in the Central Highlands of Vietnam

Da Lat is the capital of Lam Dong Province in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam. The city is a popular tourist destination in Vietnam, famous for its cool climate and mountain scenery. It's literally and figuratively a cool mountain city. I last visited Da Lat in 2021, so I was well overdue for a revisit.Da Lat is 1,500 metres above sea level, and unprepared visitors to this part of Vietnam are often surprised to find that there is a place in Vietnam that gets cold. I came prepared and brought my hoodie, which usually only gets used for bus rides where the air conditioning is set to chill.When Da Lat was "discovered" by Europeans, French colonialists turned Da Lat into a mountain retreat to escape the relentless heat of Saigon. Such was their determination to turn this remote location into a sanatorium for tropical ailments, they built a railway to get there. More on that railway later. The central point of Da Lat is Xuan Huong Lake, which is an artificial lake created by said colonialists.Near the lake is the central market. Like most cities in Vietnam, the central market is the most logical place to start your city exploration. In front of the market is the Dalat Women Monument. This is dedicated to the women of the resistance in the wars for independence.Da Lat trades on its reputation of being an idyllic escape from the humidity of the sea-level tropics. It still gets referred to as "Little Paris", just as Saigon occasionally still gets called the "Pearl of the east". While it's true that there are still French villas scattered around the surrounding mountains, the modern reality is that it's a provincial capital with over 400,000 residents, and it has the traffic to go with it. Some of the streets at peak hour resemble the worst of Saigon traffic, with motorbikes turning footpaths into auxiliary roads.What once would have been a row of shophouses, this block has been carved up into individual units, with a solitary section as a reminder of what it used to look like.The building complex is conceived by a Vietnamese artist, drawing inspiration from the nature of Da Lat with influences from Gaudi.As part of my mission to ride the railways of Southeast Asia, one of the things I wanted to do in Da Lat was to ride the restored section of the Da Lat-Thap Cham railway. The train used to run from Thap Cham on the North-South railway to Da Lat. It was built by the French, and as far as I know, it’s the only hill-station railway in Southeast Asia. This railway has long since been out of service, but there are plans to restore the Da Lat Thap Cham railway in the future. A small section has since been restored for use as a tourist train. The service runs to Trai Mat, which is 7km away. Even if you aren’t getting the train, it’s worth visiting the station for the architecture alone. It also seems to be a hotspot for photo opportunities, as there were more people here taking photos than got on the train.I was just going to ride to Trai Mat and back, as I wasn’t expecting to see much at the temple near Trai Mat. At this stage of my travels in Vietnam, I can say I am “templed-out”. It turns out that Linh Phuoc Pagoda is now one of my favourite temples in Vietnam.Another reason I wanted to visit Da Lat was for the cafe culture (trains and cafes were an easy selling point for me). One cafe I had marked out was La Viet cafe. I would never have found it by walking around as it’s somewhat out in the suburbs. When you get there though you see why it is so far out because the cafe is in a large warehouse where they also do their roasting.

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