The Da Lat – Trai Mat Railway is a restored section of the former Da Lat–Thap Cham railway. The original railway connected Da Lat to the main North-South railway of Vietnam.
Da Lat became a popular place to escape the tropical heat and enjoy the cool mountain air. Like the hill-stations of India, a railway was built to bring passengers to the mountains. The old railway was built by French colonialists and ran from 1932 to 1968.
There have been half-hearted talks to restore the original railway. That is unlikely to happen, but you can at least get a taste of the old railway by riding on a 7 km restored section in Da Lat.
Da Lat Railway Station
Da Lat station is 2 km from the central market and takes about 25 minutes to walk there. A visit to the station is worth it for the building alone. The station was built in 1938 and has elements of Art Deco and highland architectural styles. It was recognised as a national relic in 2001, and it was recently restored.
I read that there was an entrance fee for the station if you weren’t going on the train, but I didn’t see anyone selling tickets. There is a souvenir shop and cafe inside the station if you want to have a look around.
On the platform there is an old steam engine and carraiges.
There are also some Instagrammable art installations around the property.
The restored section of the railway is on a flat section so it doesn’t require using cogs. There is a piece of cog rail at the station that shows what it used to look like.
Some more carriages were being renovated when I visited.
Timetable and prices
At the time of my visit, there were six scheduled trains per day. This is only during peak times though, so check before you go. I was here during the pandemic so there were no international tourists here. As the timetable mentions, they will wait until there are at least 20 passengers before sending a train. I arrived hoping to get the 7:45 train, but the first train didn’t go until just after 10 am. I with time to kill I went for a walk in the surrounding hills.
I had a friend who visited a few months before, and trains weren’t running during the week. I booked my trip to make sure I was there on the weekend.
There are different prices for each carriage. At the time of my visit, the VIP carriage was the only option. A return ticket for VIP 2 was 135,000 VND ($5.85 USD).
The train uses a diesel engine, and not a steam locomotive like the original service. If you want a steam train experience, then keep a lookout for the proposed Hue – Da Nang tourist service.
VIP1 and VIP 2 are in the same carriage.
VIP 2 are the bench seats along the side.
I got on first to get some carriage photos. Eventually there were 20 passengers, so just enough to start the service.
The second carriage with wooden seats wasn’t used on this day.
The journey from Da Lat to Trai Mat
The train slowly trundles through the suburbs of Da Lat. Some of the houses are close to the track, but so far there is no train street like in Hanoi.
Outside of the residential area, the scenery is rows of greenhouses. The Da Lat climate is ideal for fruit and vegetables that are hard to grow in the tropical heat.
The trip takes 30 minutes and there are no other stops along the way.
Trai Mat is part of the city of Da Lat, so it is more of a suburb than another town.
Linh Phuoc Pagoda
At Trai Mat, there is an interesting pagoda to visit before going back. From Trai Mat station walk back in the direction of the train along the main road. After about five minutes you will get to the entrance for the Linh Phuoc Pagoda.
On the day I went we only had 40 minutes before the train returned, and there wasn’t a guarantee that there was another train running that day. Ultimately I think 2 hours would have been a good time. I would have liked to spend more time at the temple, and there is a Cao Dai temple nearby if you are looking for something else to see.
Even without the train ride, the Linh Phuoc Pagoda was a highlight of things I saw in Da Lat. Couple that with the beautiful Da Lat station, this train ride makes for a good excursion in Da Lat. Read more about my trip to Da Lat.