My last post was on the French legacy in Southeast Asia. So when I read feedback from an intern (medical) who just finished up his program in Dalat, Vietnam, it seemed the right time to add more on the subject. He raved about his placement there. He admitted that he went more for the internship than the setting, and sounded surprised by how much he loved Dalat and its people. He wasn't the only one, we had quite a group this summer in Dalat involved in a variety of programs. Our programs there were also recently approved by the Regis University School of Pharmacy for their students.
I love when we can introduce a great destination to people. One they had never thought of or even heard of. It’s true that Dalat often catches visitors by surprise. The city is unlike any other area in Vietnam: a former French colonial resort located at 4,900 feet.(1500 meters) above sea level, it boasts lush mountain scenery, stunning waterfalls, European architecture and very friendly locals proud to show off their city. Louis Pasteur was one of the chief advocates for the development of this getaway in the late 19th century. Prior to that it was an undeveloped jungle!
Although Vietnamese tourists have been going to Dalat for decades -- it’s among the most popular honeymoon destinations -- the city remains somewhat off-the-beaten path for many mainstream Western visitors.
My advice: go for it while it’s still a bit undiscovered by the masses. It’s only a matter of time before this little paradise is on everyone’s itinerary!
So, in short, why Dalat?
- It’s cooler than Ho Chi Minh City, and we mean that literally. This is where you can go to escape Vietnam’s relentless heat: its higher elevation and frequent mists have earned Dalat the nickname of “City of Eternal Spring.” Average highs usually top at 80 degrees F (27 c).
- It’s the perfect blend of city and nature. Dalat has cafes, clubs and a backpacker party scene, yet its lakes, waterfalls, pine forests and surrounding hills still give it a refreshing, relaxing vacation vibe you’ll quickly embrace.
- It’s oddly European... Lonely Planet thinks Dalat is reminiscent of the French Alps in springtime. But there’s also a castle. An Eiffel Tower. Chalets. Colonial architecture. A crazy Gaudi-like house called, appropriately, Hang Nga Crazy House. (And speaking of crazy, you just have to see the giant concrete chicken in Lang Dingh An.)
- ...yet very Vietnamese: The area is home to indigenous tribes you may see wandering in the city wearing their native garb, pagodas, old and new temples, silk industry and possibly one the tackiest tourist parks (even the locals say it’s kitschy) called Valley of Love -- all very Vietnamese.
- It’s a great base for outdoor adventures: everything from kayaking and canyoning, to trekking, rock climbing and biking. Whether you have a day to play, or a week, local tour companies will make sure it’s filled with adrenaline-pumping fun you’ll never forget.
- It's inexpensive. It is geared to local tourists, the prices are great and there are restaurants galore. I remember having an excellent dinner in a vegetarian restaurant for about a dollar!
I'd encourage volunteers and interns to consider a program here instead of the more popular locations of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. They're great places to visit, but for daily life, nothing beats the eternal spring weather and the welcoming people of Dalat.
By Kevin O'Neill