New Adventures in the Highlands of Dalat

  • One of The Dalat at 1200's legion of caddies.

    One of The Dalat at 1200's legion of caddies.

  • A lakeside fairway at The Dalat at 1200's newly opened golf course.

    A lakeside fairway at The Dalat at 1200's newly opened golf course.

  • Dalat Cathedral.

    Dalat Cathedral.

  • Artichokes at Dalat Market.

    Artichokes at Dalat Market.

  • Colonial details in a guest room at the Dalat Palace.

    Colonial details in a guest room at the Dalat Palace.

  • Originally opened in 1922, the Dalat Palace hotel still embodies the European elegance that homesick colonials once enjoyed.

    Originally opened in 1922, the Dalat Palace hotel still embodies the European elegance that homesick colonials once enjoyed.

  • A staff member at the Dalat Palace hotel.

    A staff member at the Dalat Palace hotel.

  • French fine-dining at Le Rabelais restaurant in the Dalat Palace hotel.

    French fine-dining at Le Rabelais restaurant in the Dalat Palace hotel.

  • The banks of Dalat's centerpiece Xuan Huong Lake are enjoyed by young and old alike.

    The banks of Dalat's centerpiece Xuan Huong Lake are enjoyed by young and old alike.

  • Phat Tire mountain-bike guide Minh.

    Phat Tire mountain-bike guide Minh.

  • A street vendor preparng banh trang nuong, a quintessential Dalat snack often described as a cross between a pizza and a burrito.

    A street vendor preparng banh trang nuong, a quintessential Dalat snack often described as a cross between a pizza and a burrito.

  • An old French villa on Dalat's Tran Hung Dao Street.

    An old French villa on Dalat's Tran Hung Dao Street.

  • On the shores of Tuyen Lam Lake.

    On the shores of Tuyen Lam Lake.

  • Overlooking the rolling, wooded hills north of Dalat.

    Overlooking the rolling, wooded hills north of Dalat.

  • The multi-tiered Datania Falls is a popular tourist site within easy reach of town.

    The multi-tiered Datania Falls is a popular tourist site within easy reach of town.

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All of a sudden, the view opened to a panorama of the city and the mountains around it, the vista honeyed by the tweets of swallows and the dull, beating drum of the Truc Lam monastery far below us. As I admired the scenery, Nhat pulled on a pair of long, thick socks—to protect against leeches, he said. I tucked my trousers into my thin, short cotton socks and prayed for mercy. I needn’t have. Half an hour later we emerged unscathed into a lakeside clearing, welcomed by the booming bass of Vietnamese pop music emanating from the sculpture park across the water. “Vietnamese tourist areas, they have to have music,” Nhat said, smiling wryly. He pulled a couple of kayaks from a locked hut and soon we were skimming across Tuyen Lam, the lake I’d seen from Binh Anh Village a couple days earlier. The setting was hauntingly serene, with no other boat in sight, though I did see a fisherman waiting patiently by his net, and another man wading in the shallows, using his feet to find clams. When thunder clapped nearby I asked Nhat how long before the rain rolled in. “Thirty minutes,” he confidently replied. Thirty seconds later it began to pour.

The next day, another Phat Tire guide, Minh, took me mountain biking. Within 15 minutes we were in the hills outside town, passing newly erected greenhouses that attested to the town’s booming agricultural trade. We crisscrossed bone-rattling stretches of knotted tree roots and compacted clay and tackled steep climbs where my legs and balance failed me. Eventually we stopped at the crest of a small hill for a snack of banana bread. Wind whipped through the pine trees, making a sound like rushing water.

“People come here and get confused because they think they can hear a waterfall or the ocean,” Minh said. As I lay back on a patch of grass blanketed by pine needles, the sun filtering through the trees on a dry, cool, cloudless day, the sound of “water” filling the forest, all I could think was, “Who needs the sea?”

THE DETAILS

Getting There
Multiple flights on Vietnam Airlines connect Dalat with Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang.

Where to Stay
For the grandest accommodation in town, book a room at the Dalat Palace (84-63/382-5444; doubles from US$170), where old-world charm is matched by world-class service. Binh An Village (84-63/380-0999; doubles from US$140) is a more serene affair on the shores of Tuyen Lam Lake, with villas and suites in a beautifully gardened setting.

What to Do
Golfers will appreciate Dalat’s handful of courses, the latest of which is the Kyi Hla Han-designed layout at The Dalat at 1200, which will open to non-members with the completion of its clubhouse in the summer of 2016. For other outdoor pursuits, contact Phat Tire Ventures, whose range of activities includes white-water rafting, canyoning, and mountain biking.

This article originally appeared in the December/January print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Friends in High Places”)

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