It’s temperate climate at an elevation of 1500 meters provided French settlers with a cool retreat from the hot tropical climate below. The railway was established to provide daily transport for passengers from Saigon and the coastal town of Nha Trang, which would further connect travellers to the north.
The Da Lat Railway Station was designed in 1932 and opened in 1938. It is a unique building in that it incorporates an art deco style with traditional native Cao Nguyen highland communal house elements.
Considering the railway shut down during the Vietnam war years due to military activity it’s surprisingly in pretty good shape.
The railway and the Da Lat station laid dormant for many years until it was finally resurrected as a tourist attraction in 1991. The 7km ride takes passengers to Trai Mat with a 40 minute stop before heading back to the station.
There’s an original steam locomotive on display but these days the train is pulled by a diesel engine.
Service runs 5 times a day with the first train at 7:45 and the last one at 4pm. A ticket costs about $5 for foreigners.
When this was a full service railway operating from Saigon and Nha Trang there would be three cars for passengers and one for cargo.
Look for the carriage with the padded seats for a little extra comfort.
There’s just something about train travel that sets it apart with other forms of transportation. The sound of the engine and the wheels clicking on the tracks, the whistle from the conductor, it’s a true adventure ride.
As the train pulls away from the station the landscape opens up to reveal the little enclaves and rural landscape along with the reminders of Da Lat’s colonial heritage.
The tradition of flower and vegetable growing in Da Lat goes as far back as the 1930’s. The train takes you past today’s latest technology in agriculture including greenhouses and aquatic farming.
After 20 minutes we arrived at Trai Mat and are given 40 minutes to wander around the village. Most head for the Linh Phuoc or Dragon Pagoda about a 10-15 walk from the train station.
The most unique aspect of this pagoda is the building material used to construct it. Made up of debris of glass, porcelain, and pottery. The pillars at the front of the Buddhist temple are in the shape of dragons, all made from glass. Another dragon is found near a pond next to the temple. It’s total winding length measures 49 meters, with scales made completely from 12,000 empty glass bottles.
Across from the pond and dragon sits the temple’s most prominent structure, a 37 meter high seven storey tower. The first floor houses a bell that weighs 8.5 tons. The building is adorned with ceramic mosaics of dragons and phoenixes.
This stop before getting back on the train for the return to Da Lat is a great opportunity to get a few quiet moments in the countryside. Surrounding yourself with the greenhouses and fields completes your experience in the southern highlands.
Then it’s back on the train for the 20 minute ride to Da Lat station.
This is a unique train travel experience, very different from a ride on Vietnam’s regular service. The sounds of rail travel on the Da Lat line are louder, deeper. The rocking cars and overall motion and sensation of the train perhaps would be tiring and uncomfortable on a long journey, but for a short tourist ride, it’s a sensational window into the history of Vietnam’s early tourism days.
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