It’s the middle of winter and summertime flowers are blanketing the hills of Dalat. And the show is only just beginning. At the end of February, the spectacle peaks when thousands of imported tulips and daffodils burst into bloom. I had the good fortune to visit this stunning city in January. So here is a window into the year-round perfect weather that is the ‘Little Paris’ of Vietnam.
WHY IS DALAT CALLED ‘LITTLE PARIS’?
Located in the central highlands of Vietnam, Dalat offers a refreshing break from the country’s hot, steamy weather. With year-round cool temperatures, mist-shrouded valleys and a central, man-made lake, it could almost pass for a town in Switzerland. And an apt comparison that would be, as the city was originally built as a mountain resort by the French in the late 19th century.
View towards the lake from the terrace of Dalat Palace
Dalat earned the name ‘Little Paris’ for its wealth of French architecture. This includes broad boulevards and lakeside hotels and villas, remnants of the bygone Indochine era. Still, the city remains distinctly Vietnamese. That is to say, there are plenty of outdoor markets, scores of motorbikes and an infinite variety of small, specialty shops whose colorful merchandise tumbles out onto the pavement.
Moreover, the town is brimming with flowers. In fact, the region is prized for its spectacular blooms. These include larger-than-life hydrangeas (for which Dalat is famous), species roses and unusual orchids, marigolds, chrysanthemums and mimosas. The flowers grow in abundance along roadsides, in highway medians and across parks. And they embellish all of the hotel grounds and restaurants of the city.
Without a doubt, it’s a flower-lover’s paradise. And thanks to its temperate climate, Dalat can cultivate plants all year round. This has made it the main grower and supplier of flowers to the rest of the country. To illustrate, a quick glance around reveals thousands of greenhouses dotting the outskirts of the city.
Flower greenhouses and net houses dominate the outskirts of the city
Each day, millions of flowers are harvested, loaded on to trucks and sped to Vietnamese flower markets where they are unpacked in the wee hours of the morning. This includes Saigon’s largest wholesale market, Ho Thi Ky. Because time is of the essence, truckers make this daily journey of 5-6 hours often at high speed. (Typically, residents avoid these windy roads in the evening.)
Vendor unpacking lotuses from Dalat at Ho Thi Ky Flower Market
THE DALAT FLOWER PARK
We had just two days in Dalat and luckily, our first day dawned spectacular and clear. So, we grabbed a taxi and headed out to the Dalat Flower Park. Located on the northern side of the lake, this beautifully maintained public garden attracts residents and tourists alike. It boasts a collection of over 300 varieties of flowers.
The garden is divided into sections, each featuring bold swathes of a single species or color. Framed by low, evergreen hedges, the colorful blooms provide a dramatic contrast to the city’s high altitude clouds.
Entrance to Dalat Flower Park
In addition to the formal areas, the park features many bonsai and penjing landscapes as well as flowering trees.
Bonsai on display at Dalat Flower Park
Red flame tree
While a short climb up some stone stairs brings you to the flower greenhouses filled with roses, specialty annuals and other exotic species.
TRÚC LÂM TEMPLE AND MONASTERY
Located just outside Dalat, this Zen Buddhist temple and monastery is a garden-lover’s dream. The most picturesque way to reach it is to take the cable car from Robin Hill, accessed about a mile outside the city center. We climbed aboard for the 2 1/2 mile ride (4 kilometers) and were instantly propelled across a sea of fragrant pines. Their thick, whorled leaves brushed against our vehicle, producing a slow, swishing sound as we rode.
About 10 minutes later, we disembarked at the parking lot below the monastery. A short climb brought us to the garden. Nestled into a woodland on 35 hectares, the monastery is immaculately maintained by the resident monks and nuns. We arrived at the perfect time in the late afternoon when the slanting sun set the many flowers to their best advantage.
Main public temple at the Trúc Lâm Monastery
Blue jade vine
Pale pink anthurium
Flowers and vegetable parterres
Dalat can be reached by bus from Ho Chi Minh City, a journey that can take anywhere from 5 to 7 hours. Traffic can be heavy and as I mentioned before, the two-lane mountain roads are winding. Most people elect to fly from Saigon airport, a flight time of just over one half hour. Dry season is November through April with temperatures fluctuating year-round between 57 and 73 degrees Fahrenheit.
For more information on Dalat, its hotels and tourist sites, click here.