The spectacular scenery around Da Lat lends itself to challenging treks, bike rides and other adventure activities. None of the local waterfalls is worth visiting in the dry season (Dec–May), with the possible exception of Tiger Falls, though you might enjoy a boat ride on one of the local lakes or a cable-car ride from Robin Hill to Lake Tuyen Lam, where kayaks are available for rent. Another popular jaunt is by train to Trai Mat, taking time out to admire the adornments on the Linh Phuoc Pagoda.
The Valley of Love
Thung Lung Tinh Yeu, or the Valley of Love, sits five kilometres north of Da Lat. Bao Dai and his courtiers used to hunt here in the 1950s, before a dam project in 1972 flooded part of the valley and created Lake Da Thien. The valley’s still waters and wooded hills are actually quite enticing, though the music blasting from souvenir stalls and the buzzing of rented motorboats do not enhance the aura of romance. Kitsch diversions such as pony rides round the lake escorted by a cowboy are also on offer.
XQ Historical Village
More a tourist trap than a place of historical worth, though worth popping into if you’re visiting the adjacent Valley of Love. Here you’ll find several traditional houses displaying the process and product of silk embroidery picture-making. You can watch the girls painstakingly producing images thread by thread, then walk through an exhibition of landscapes, still lifes, portraits and more surreal compositions, all woven from silk.
The village’s thatch-roofed bamboo stilthouses are occupied by Chill and Ma, but mostly Lat, groups of Koho peoples eking out a living growing rice, pulses and vegetables. The various paths running through the village are easy to follow so a guide is not essential, though one can be easily arranged through any of Da Lat’s tour operators.
Ankroet lakes and falls
If you go it alone and hire a motorbike for the day, you could combine a visit to Lat Village with a jaunt out to Ankroet lakes and falls, signposted 8km along the road to Lat. The falls are more secluded and attractive than most in the area but there is little water during the dry season.
Lang Bian Mountain
From Lat Village, you’ll see the peak (2169m) of Lang Bian Mountain looming above you to the north. It’s a 4hr ascent on foot, though by car you can drive up to the canopy of pines on the lower peak. Inevitably, a schmaltzy legend has been concocted to explain the mountain’s formation. The story tells of two ill-starred lovers, a Lat man called Lang and a Chill girl named Bian, who were unable to marry because of tribal enmity. Broken-hearted, Bian passed away, and the peaks of Lang Bian are said to represent her breast heaving its dying breath. Bian’s death seems not to have been wholly in vain: so racked with guilt was her father, that he called a halt to tribal unrest by unifying all of the local factions into the Koho.
Robin Hill and Lake Tuyen Lam
As you leave Da Lat to the south on Highway 20, a slip road to the right leads to the top of Robin Hill, crowned by a huge cable-car terminus. Rides in the cable car once offered fantastic views over the slopes around the city, which are now marred by construction work. The twelve-minute trip deposits you at Lake Tuyen Lam, a placid and attractive expanse of water on which you can take a boat trip. Any taxi or xe om driver in town will be willing to take you here, but it’s also possible to get to the falls independently with your own wheels.
The Datanla Falls are some of the most impressive in the area, and can easily be combined with a visit to nearby Lake Tuyen Tam. In Koho, datanla means "water under leaves", and that pretty much sums up the place: from the car park, it’s a steep fifteen-minute clamber down to the falls, probing some splendidly lush forest. The falls themselves are not terribly thrilling, their muddy waters cascading onto a plateau spanned by a wooden footbridge that provides a hackneyed photo opportunity. The more famous Prenn Falls are a further 6km out of town, but though extremely popular with local tourists a visit cannot be recommended – the park’s attractions include bears, deer and monkeys kept in wretched conditions.
CHICKEN VILLAGE (ask for Lang Con Ga) is just like any other Vietnamese village, apart from the bizarre, 5m-high cement cockerel that stands proudly on a plinth in the centre, its mouth open in mid-squawk. Whether you’re a potential buyer of textiles or not, it’s interesting to take a look at the rudimentary looms that the women need to strap themselves into to operate. It’s also possible to go rambling through the nearby fields and foothills without a permit.
The nearby village of TRAI MAT is just 7km from Da Lat, and ideally placed for a short excursion. Most head there by train, the line taking you east past some interesting, if not terribly beautiful, countryside. The village itself rewards exploration – Linh Phuoc Pagoda is the main draw, but if you have more time (or are willing to get a xe om back), grab a bite to eat or hunt down the beautiful Cao Dai temple on a rise just east of the village.
Linh Phuoc Pagoda
The highlight of Trai Mat is Linh Phuoc Pagoda, an incredibly ornate building which showcases the art of tessellation, whereby small pieces of broken china or glass are painstakingly arranged in cement. The first thing to catch the eye is the huge dragon in the courtyard to the right of the main building, constructed from over twelve thousand carefully broken beer bottles. Artwork inside the pagoda is even more intricate, with mosaic dragons entwined around the main hall’s pillars, while stairs lead up on the left to colourfully inlaid galleries, shrines and good views. The deep sound of resonating bells, rung by devotees, makes the main hall very atmospheric.
Located at the end of a precarious switchback road are the Tiger Falls, the most popular in the area with visitors. A steep concrete stairway leads down to the base of the falls, which tumble from a great height and offer good photo opportunities. The falls are a very popular destination for Vietnamese, so you’re unlikely to be able to enjoy the place alone. Pools and boulders around the base of the falls make ideal spots for a picnic. By the restaurants you’ll see a statue of a primitive hunter and another of a huge hollow tiger, whose mouth you can climb into for a photo.