Last updated April 2015 | First published 2013 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
The best thing about Dalat is not the city itself but the natural beauty of the surrounding area: purple mountains cloaked in pine forests stretching into the misty distance. The first time I came to Dalat I remember getting excited on the bus journey as the road climbed higher through jungle and mountains, only to be disappointed on arrival, when I realized that very little of this landscape is visible from the city. What was the point, I wondered, in travelling all the way up into the mountains if, once you arrived, there was no sensation of being there? Of course, most visitors to Dalat go on excursions to waterfalls, lakes and valleys within easy reach of the city. However, because Dalat is such a popular destination for domestic and foreign tourists, these nearby ‘scenic’ sites are often heavily commercialized, busy and underwhelming. To really immerse yourself in the natural setting of this area, rent some wheels, ride a short way out of the city, find a spot in the forest, and camp. Below is my guide to camping in Dalat. For more articles about Dalat see Related Content.
CAMPING IN DALAT
Rent a bicycle or motorbike from your guesthouse or hotel in Dalat City and ride northwest out of town towards Hồ Suối Vàng (Golden Spring Lake). Just after passing the lake the road starts to climb into dense pine forests. You’ll see some good dirt tracks leading off the main road and into the forest. Take any one of these tracks and follow it until you find a good campsite.
Pine forests north of Dalat
A good campsite in this area is one with easy access to the main road (in case you need to make a quick exit because of bad weather or unforeseen circumstances) but preferably not in sight of the main road. This is because you don’t want to attract the curiosity of any locals or passers-by (of which there are very few anyway). These pine forests are great for camping: the carpet of fallen pine needles is soft to sit and lie on, the pine trees offer shade from the sunshine and shelter from the rain, and there’s plenty of dead pine wood for making a small fire (although obviously you need to be very careful, especially in the dry season, as pine is very flammable).
Make sure you come prepared. You’ll need your own tent (although if you try hard you can probably find one to rent or buy in Dalat City), a small camp stove or something to cook on over the fire, lots of bottled water, some food supplies (there are no shops in the area) such as instant noodles, coffee and fruit, a torch (flashlight), and warm clothing or a sleeping bag – remember it gets cold in this area at night, no matter how warm it feels during the daytime. Most importantly, bring a big plastic bag to put your rubbish in – make sure you leave your campsite in the same condition you found it in. You’ll also need a lock for your bicycle or motorbike so that you can lock the wheels and leave it near your tent during the night.
The best time of year to camp in this area is in the dry season from December to March. During this time the weather is perfect for camping: dry, warm (but not hot), sunny and bright.
I like to find my campsite around mid-morning so that I can pitch my tent, collect fire wood and organize my things. Then I spend the day in the dappled sunlight under the giant pine trees, watching the colours change over the mountains, reading, snacking, playing the guitar and singing until sunset. I make my fire at dusk as the sun is disappearing behind the ridges to the west. When darkness falls it’s always a surprise to find that mine is not the only fire in these forests: half a dozen other flickering orange lights appear in the landscape around me – a reminder that many people in the Central Highlands still live semi-nomadic lives. When the night gets cold I lie by the fire, watching the stars and thinking about the animals that once inhabited these forests: less than fifty years ago wild tigers and elephants were a daily concern for locals in the area. Today, the only wildlife you’re likely to encounter are buffalo, which can still be a pretty scary sight in the middle of the night! The thing that stays with me the most from my camping trips in Dalat is the sound of the wind through the pine trees at night; a sound that is at once haunting and comforting.
- Dalat: Eating & Drinking: Find great local food in this mountain city
- Dalat’s Waterfalls: A Guide: Discover the region’s best cascades
- The Southeast Loop: Saigon-Dalat-Mui Ne on quiet, scenic backroads
- Hot Rocks Grill, Dalat: Great local food grilled on a volcanic stone slab
- VIDEO: Dalat’s Waterfalls: My film of the region’s raging currents
View ‘Camping in Dalat’ in a LARGER MAP
Selected Resources for Travellers & Expats: What's this?