Truc Lam Pagoda is a Zen Buddhist monastery six kilometres south of Da Lat city centre. Set on top of a hill shrouded in pine forest, it’s a pleasure to take a quiet stroll through the grounds which are full of exceptionally pretty gardens.
Built in 1994, the main ceremonial hall is flanked by a drum temple and bell temple. What’s refreshing, aside from the fresh air and flutter of bird song, is that this is an active temple which means you’ll get a glimpse of monastic life. It is also free of nuisances such as aggressive vendors, a common issue you encounter at other temples in Vietnam – though be prepared to navigate your way around noisy tour groups.
The monastery is located at the southern terminus of the city’s scenic cable car ride, so it’s best to combine these two experiences before walking down the steps to tranquil Tuyen Lam Lake (ho Tuyen Lam), also known as Paradise Lake.
Tuyen Lam is actually an artificial reservoir but it still feels like a slice of wilderness. In fact, “tuyen” means stream, “lam” means forest, and you will see this name is apt as this is where the two meet. The lake is surrounded by green hills that seem to intensify the vibrancy of the waters.
Lang Biang Mountain
Consisting of three peaks, Lang Biang Mountain offers a fantastic vista of the surrounding hills and lakes. Visitors have the option of venturing to the old radar station-turned-tourist centre at 1,950 metres by old Russian jeep or on their own two feet through pine forest up to Lang Biang Peak (2,167 metres). You’ll be rewarded with a view worthy of the three-hour uphill slog.
It is an impressive sight, especially since you can stand quite close to the cascade, and it is a stop on most Da Lat motorcycle/Easy Rider day tours.
It only takes 10 minutes to reach the bottom of the falls but the way down is tricky. The first half is on bricked stairs with metal handrails, then it is on uneven trail that can be extremely slippery and muddy. Steady feet and decent hiking sandals/shoes are required. Getting a good view/snapshot of the cascade involves perching on an uneven bolder with strong water rushing past.
Datanla Waterfall (Thac Datanla) itself is an attractive series of cascades – but the falls themselves are the secondary attraction in this case study of “how to enhance nature”. Nature just couldn’t be left alone. Datanla is a chose your own adventure fun park.
4-kilometre cable car. On a clear day you’ll be able to see farmland, greenhouses, lakes and distant mountains. The cable car connects Robin Hill, which has the usual cafe and souvenir shop, to Truc Lam Pagoda and Tuyen Lake – both are definitely worth the visit. Robin Hill is three kilometres south of Xuan Huong lake and should be a cheap, quick taxi ride.
Linh Phuoc Pagoda
The tile-work is stunning and begs for a closer look. In addition to a main temple, there is a 36-metre tall tower with an 8,500 kilogram bell. It also won’t be hard to spot the 49-metre long flying dragon statue in the garden, its scale made from broken glass bottles.
The temple grounds are small and compact and your length of visit all depends on how much time you want to spend ogling the intricate details and climbing up the pagoda steps. You’ll also need some time to work your way around groups; the temple is a stop on many bus tours.
Linh Son Pagoda
Built in 1940, Linh Son Pagoda is a peaceful respite located on a small hill in the city and a stroll through here is a quiet pleasure.
Behind the main hall there is a small garden where city noise seems to evaporate and one is overcome by a sense of calm. A visit here won’t take long but it’s a great stop to hear the birds and smell the magnolia blossoms during an afternoon stroll.
Bao Dai Palace
Bao Dai Summer Palace (Dinh Bao Dai) was said to be Bao Dai’s favourite among his many holiday retreats because of the good hunting on the grounds.
Hunting was a favourite pastime for the Emperor, whose legacy is that of puppet king controlled by the French and a playboy who led a lavish lifestyle.
Located two kilometres south west of the lake, the simple building is a prime example of Art Deco architecture, a breezy building of high ceilings, big windows and doors featuring a mix of wood and concrete. There are placards throughout the building with basic (and sometimes poorly written) information. The rooms are simply furnished with what appears to be a mix of original and replacement furniture. Black and white photos are displayed, along with archive pieces in what was the Emperor’s office.
Valley of Love (Vallee d’Amour)
If you’re a cynic, this place will curl your toes. Da Lat is the honeymoon capital of Vietnam and this park is one of the most popular attractions for domestic tourists. The park’s central feature, Da Thien Lake, is actually beautiful – if you can imagine away the “love bridge” and giant “magic faucet” (yes, faucet) they’ve placed in the middle, marring an otherwise picturesque scene. For foreigners, the forest fringed lake will be the highlight and you can hire a swan paddleboat to explore the length of it. The surrounding grounds and gardens are sprawling so it is possible to find quiet spots to yourself.
The hill leading down to the lake is full of kitsch and you’ll see newlyweds taking photos of each other next to statues of couple embracing, giant hearts, birds and butterflies. Only the deepest cynic could resist having a giggle. And nothing says “LOVE” more than paintball, zip lining, a scenic jeep tour and a souvenir shop.
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