A long cable car connects the lake of Hồ Tuyền Lâm to the city of Dalat, dropping people off at the foot of Thiền Viện Trúc Lâm, a temple that sits atop a hill overlooking the water.
A couple kilometers north of the city center, we found the XQ Embroidery Village, a bizarre mashup of a gallery, factory, museum and theme park. While exploring the village, we also felt somewhat mashed-up. Were we supposed to be confused, amused, creeped out, or impressed? Because we were feeling all those things at the same time.
Though its days as an important hub of transit are squarely in the past, the Dalat Train Station is still active, welcoming passengers aboard a scenic journey to nearby Trại Mát. Even if you’re not taking a ride, it’s worth stopping by the station to check out its art deco architecture, and the classic locomotives in its yard.
Dalat has three palaces, or “Dinh”. The Dinh III is the summer palace of Bao Dai, which we had visited earlier in the day. The Dinh II is the Governor’s Mansion, closed to the public. And then there’s the Dinh I, the “King’s Palace”, built in 1940 by French millionaire Robert Clement, and purchased by Bao Dai in 1949.
When I heard people talking about Dalat’s “Crazy House”, I wasn’t entirely convinced. I assumed it was going to be like some clown who promises “craziness” at your kid’s birthday party, but then he’s actually kind of normal. And while you’re glad that he didn’t kill anyone, part of you is disappointed that his definition of “crazy” was balloon animals.
Until he left in 1954 for permanent exile in France, Bảo Đại kept a summer palace in Dalat. Today, the palace is open to tourism. Little has changed since his departure, so visiting provides an excellent glimpse into the life of Vietnam’s final emperor.
Conceived and constructed as a resort by the French, Dalat is distinguished by its colonial architecture and leisurely atmosphere. Today, it’s the unofficial capital of the central highlands, and a favorite place for both locals and foreigners to escape Vietnam’s otherwise tropical heat.
One look at the pictures of Saigon’s bizarre theme parks, and we knew we’d be visiting at least one. After careful deliberation, we selected Suối Tiên. Not only did this quasi-religious park look genuinely entertaining, but it seemed delightfully unaware of its own kitschiness. A day of ironic fun awaits… let’s go!