Da Lat, Vietnam: A Strange Sort of Tourism

By: leelefever on July 22, 2006 - 1:15am

We are suckers for cool places in the mountains.  Da Lat, Vietnam lured us with temperatures in the 60's and the promise of experiencing Vietnam's vacation and honeymoon capital.  What we found was an intersting look at Vietnamese vacation culture that perplexed us a bit.

In the last 50 years, Da Lat has grown from a sleepy hill station to a full blown tourist destination.  In that growth, it seems that it's reputation may have preceded its progress by a few years.  From our perspective, Da Lat is a place with a perfect climate that is desparately searching for something to keep the tourists busy.  In these efforts, the city has grown into a mess of modern buildings, neon and crowds of people.  It does have a nice golf course. 

Yesterday we rented a motorbike and went to a ski-lift style gandola that descended to a lake just out of town.  Our hopes were high.  Though the gandola ride was nice, it's end left us wondering why it had been built- a gandola to what exactly?  We found a garden variety pagoda and a trail down to a red clay beach surrounding a half-full lake. The trail to the lake ended by a sickly looking and very sad monkey on a chain. Not a highlight. 

On the way back we realized that most Vietnamese never get a chance to ride in a gandola, so it is not only transportation, but an attraction itself. It may be no matter that the destination is an anti-climax. 

The restaurant situation in Da Lat was also a bit strange to us.  First, there are very few actual restaurants in Da Lat.  Instead, there are cafes that have a very consistent menu consisting of eight pages of drinks and ice cream and one page of food, including, invariably, six kinds of spaghetti.  Of course, there are also many street stalls offering baguettes, three varieties of snails, meat on sticks and pho.  What we didn't find were any up-market Vietnamese restaurants.  We found very few places to go out and get a nice Vietnamese dinner.  The restaurants on offer focused mainly on western food with some Asian foods in the mix.

 Being the honeymoon capital of Vietnam, we were left wondering if we were missing something.  Where do the Vietnamese vacationers eat?  In the end, we realized that Da Lat is not for us- it is not built around the needs and expectations of the Western traveler. The Vietnemese may not go out to eat Vietnamese food in nice restaurants to celebrate (or the places are well hidden). It is a Vietnamese place that serves the Vietnamese people first, as it should.  While Da Lat may not have lived up to what we imagined, it offered a quirky, strange, cool and interesting look at Vietnamese vacation culture and for that we are thankful.