Phu Nguyen at Leuleu Hostel. All photos by Christian Berg
I made Dalat a sort of base so when I want to, I can come back here anytime. Life here is really good. The scenery, the atmosphere, especially the temperature -- is perfect. Nowhere else in Vietnam do you have such good weather. People do business but the lifestyle is still very calm. The children still go to school together in a group, they have fun. People are nice, they’re friendly. That lifestyle remains in Dalat.
The interesting thing about Dalat is there are no actual local people from this area. There are the ethnic groups, but the ethnic groups, even from the French times didn’t really play an important role in the development of the city.
So the French came first, then people from Hue, Danang, Quang Ngai came here, as well as a small population of people from Hanoi. People from different destinations brought their food, their lifestyle. Now Dalat is combined with a majority of central people.
For a long time, Vietnamese tourists would come to Dalat just for sightseeing. But now they are starting to think of Dalat as not just a place for romance and sightseeing, but also for outdoor activities, like hiking, trekking, camping, and canyoning.
When my friends ask me what to see in Dalat, I say just get out of town and you can see the pine trees, mountains, and valleys everywhere. So you don’t have to go to one exact location. Dalat has so many hidden nature spots, like Tuyen Lam Lake. It’s a very large lake and everywhere around the lake is just like heaven.
Canyoning is also something special where you can see things not many other people get to see. It’s a combination of the waterfalls, springs, rocks, mountains, valleys -- everything in one trip. So you’ll experience every hidden corner of nature in Dalat.
In the Central Highlands they’ve grown coffee for a long time. But in the past five years coffee has become a big story. For coffee lovers, there are two popular places here where the owners really know about coffee. One is La Viet and the other is The Married Beans. I think you should also go to the traditional Cafe Tùng. People go there because they believe that’s the place where you can still feel the old spirit of Dalat.
I recommend that if you want to try the authentic local food to go on the street, not to the restaurants. In Dalat, there are some places that serve the authentic food of Hue people, or of Nha Trang people, or Cam Ranh people. Most of them have a very small vendor shop on the street and by walking on the street you can find the best food in Dalat.
The thing that makes food in Dalat famous is freshness: everything is grown here. People who come here can go to the fruit gardens, go to the vegetable gardens and enjoy eating vegetables in Dalat.
I think the outdoor activities are truly the highlight of Dalat, because it has all the resources for outdoor sports: kayaking, paddling, rowing, camping, white-water rafting, and canyoning. In Vietnam, there are not many places where you can do all of those things. That’s something exceptional.
All of the activities can be made easy. For example, if you go to Bidou National Park, you have many different routes, from routes for school children to hardcore hikers. You can also opt for camping, or birdwatching. Even for canyoning we have two different options. You can go for the easier option.
Last year and this year we hosted a new sporting event, the Dalat Ultra Trail Marathon. Hello Dalat supplied the accommodation and transportation. This year there were more than 4000 athletes with their family and friends, so it’s going to become a big event. This year we are asking for the permit for a SUP tournament, the very first for Dalat.
For a hostel, you need style. You need to understand about different cultures, and the host should be a good storyteller, able to connect people, connect locals with tourists. In my understanding, hostels are a place for people who want to experience the lifestyle of a place.
I built my hostels here and in Hanoi with the same concept, to help people experience something to bring home: a story, a feeling, a memory. I think that’s the beauty of tourism.
The peace. Every time I arrive in Dalat I feel all of my stress release. I can’t explain if it’s the temperature or atmosphere… I think probably all those things together lead to a feeling of peace inside. Many musicians and artists come here to find inspiration. I think that’s something we share. We feel the inspiration here.