It may be the middle of winter, but flowers are blooming in Dalat. And the show is only just beginning. By the end of February, the spectacle peaks when thousands of tulips and daffodils burst into bloom. I had the good fortune to visit this stunning city in January. Below is a window into the year-round perfect weather that is the norm in 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 usual 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, including broad boulevards, lakeside hotels and villas; all remnants of the bygone Indochine era. Still, the city remains distinctly Vietnamese. There are boisterous outdoor markets, scores of motorbikes and hundreds of specialty shops whose colorful merchandise tumbles out onto the pavement.
But more than anything, Dalat is known for its spectacular flowers. Growing in abundance along roadsides, in highway medians and across parks are giant hydrangeas (for which Dalat is famous), species roses, orchids, marigolds, chrysanthemums and mimosas. These same flowers embellish all of the hotel grounds and restaurants of the city.
A FLOWER LOVER’S PARADISE
It should come as no surprise, then, that Dalat is considered a flower-lover’s paradise. And thanks to its temperate climate, the city can cultivate plants all year round. This in turn has made the region the main grower and supplier of flowers to the rest of the country. A quick tour reveals thousands of greenhouses dotting the outskirts of the city.
Flower greenhouses and net houses dominate the outskirts of the city
At the end of each day, millions of flowers are harvested from these greenhouses, loaded on to trucks and sped to Vietnamese flower markets to be unpacked in the wee hours of the morning. This includes Saigon’s largest wholesale market, Ho Thi Ky. Given the perishable nature of their cargo, truckers often make this daily 5-6 hour journey at break-neck speed. (As a result, residents typically 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 the city, and luckily, the first dawned spectacular and clear. Grabbing a taxi, we headed out to Dalat Flower Park. Located on the northern side of the lake, this beautifully maintained garden is known for its collection of over 300 varieties of flowers.
The park is divided into sections, each featuring plants of a single species or color, all framed by evergreen hedges.
Entrance to Dalat Flower Park
In addition to the formal areas, the park features many bonsai and penjing landscapes as well as a large collection of flowering trees.
Bonsai on display at Dalat Flower Park
Red flame tree
A short climb up some stone stairs brings you to another must-see section of the park: the flower greenhouses. Each houses species roses, specialty annuals and other exotic species.
TRÚC LÂM TEMPLE AND MONASTERY
Located just outside Dalat, this Zen Buddhist temple and monastery is also a flower-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. 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.
Disembarking at the parking lot, we made the short climb to the monastery. Surrounded by woodland, the 35-hectare garden 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.