Sunday, July 5, 2020

Rediscovering Dalat

Surrounded by gentle hills and scenic spots, the highland city of Dalat is still home to much intriguing beauty in spite of the growing population, the rise in modern architecture and number of tourists, says Nhat Ha.

I am a touch disappointed when my car first drives into Dalat. The city doesn’t look or feel like the old European styled-moun-tain retreat I remember discovering 10 years ago. There are more nonde-script modern buildings and multi-storey houses. The flowers and pine forests which once dominated the capital of Lam Dong have retreated into the distance.

Dalat is synonymous with fra-grant pine-forested hills, misty-wet mornings and grand French colonial-period villas – but have these sides of Dalat now be crowded out by mod-ernism in this mountainous outpost?

Oddly, it doesn’t even seem that chilly I remember wrapping myself up in a cardigan, a scarf and a har on the cool mornings and evenings 10 years ago. Has the trend of urbanisa- tion warmed up the city? Or is glob-al warming to blame?

I check into Ngoc Lan Hotel which overlooks the city centre and Xuan Huong Lake. I dump my bags and stroll down to a familiar spot from my past – Nghe Sy Café (The Artist’s Café) by Dalat Market.

Iced coffees — compulsory in most of southern Vietnam T are less common in this mountain town. The temperature may have warmed but everyone at Nghe Sy is sitting over a hot cup of coffee. The thick scent of coffee hangs in the air fills me with nostalgia. I order one and sit back remembering how I wandered the streets of Dalat stopping at the small cafes with such wonderful names – Lang Van Café (The Writers Café), Phuong Tim Café (Flamboyant Purple Café) or Pho Xuan Café (Spring Street Café).

Such cafés in Dalat are simple and unpretentious. Locals and tourists share a long bench while savouring the coffee and the pleasant atmosphere around Ho Xuan Lake. The coffee shops are often crowded but always cosy and peaceful. It’s still the best way to start your day in Dalat. As I sip my coffee I watch the customers come and go from the flower stalls where piles of beautiful roses and daisies slowly vanish.

The locale is awash with the fruits of Mother°s Nature labour. At mar-kets you can find a bounty of fresh vegetables and fruits. I pick up some strawberry jam, a bag of avocadoes, and a massive artichoke. With Hanoi staring down the barrel of a long, cold winter I also pick up a hand-knit sweater, a most fashionable one, too.

Sometimes described as The City of Love, Dalat is a popular spot for honeymooners — here and there you will see newly weds posing for pho-tos. But the city has also attracted artists, photographers, writers and poets, who all come to the scenic and serene town in search of inspiration. Indeed many smitten artists have decided to stay and took up perma-nent residence.

Another moniker for Dalat was Le Petite Paris because the French, who originally settled in the area, built so many French style villas. More than 2,000 villas are dotted around the area. The French made the arduous journey from Saigon to enjoy the temperate climate that keeps Dalat a steady 19 degrees Celsius on average year-round.

The hill – station was a retreat town, a place to kick back and relax far from the worries of the world and the heat of the coastal plains. This fairytale land
was quite literally a breath of fresh air for the French tourists.

After my coffee I decide to rent a motorbike – VND100,000 a day – and drive to Lam Dong Museum. As I drive dovvn Tran Hung Dao street, I see a number of villas which have been renovated or restored and now look in mint condition. The brand new Dalat Cadasa Resort is a partic-ularly stunning structure, surround-ed by vast gardens, pine trees and flowers. The resort features 13 charming French styled villas. Each one has a different style, but in gen-eral they all bear the architectural hallmarks of villas from Normandy in northern France.

I head to the museum on Hung Vuong street, 5km from Dalat centre, which was formerly the home of an aristocrat Nguyen Huu Hao (King Bao Dai’s father-in-law) and later Queen Nam Phuong, Bao Dai’s wife. In 1999 it Was renovated and turned into a museum where you can find many artifacts of the local hill tribes in Lam Dong and archaeological find-ings from Cat Tien National Forest.

After that I decide to escape the confines of city and drive out to explore the surrounding hills and valleys. Exiting the city I pass the stunning Evason Ana Mandara Villas Dalat Resort & Spa on Le Lai street, another picturesque resort which boasts 17 restored French colonial villas scattered around 35 acres of parkland with 65 elegantly furnished guestrooms in total.

My rambling journey continues past thatched houses, coffee planta- tions and flower farms. I decide to pop into a plantation to see where my cup of coffee came from. The farmer is friendly and informative – and not because he thinks I am here to buy beans wholesale!

I head back to Xuan Huong lake with thoughts of a late lunch. I pass the Crazy House — the famous tree-house owned and designed by the kooky Dang Viet Nga, now a hugely popular tourist site.

The tree-house contains cave-style sitting rooms, a concrete giraffe tea room, and towering fish heads with guest rooms where you can stay overnight. Down the helter-skelter hallways and up the winding stair-ways you can find various cosy nooks and crannies set up as small sitting rooms with desks, chairs, and coffee tables. It has to be one of the most off-the-wall places to lodge in Asia. Like something conjured up by the Brothers Grimm, the courtyard gar-den is a weird grotto of aviaries, con-crete toadstools and steel spiders webs. It is apparently Dalat’s top tourist attraction. I stand in awe as hordes of Vietnamese and foreign tourists scramble around. It is I sup-pose a great curiosity and for an entrance fee of just VND 10,000 hard to dismiss, so I decide to join the masses and fumble around for half an hour before hunger gets the better of me.

Back by Xuan Huong Lake, I finally sit down to lunch at Thanh Thuy Café. The Vietnamese menu is decent with Dalat – grown watercress salad with blanched beef and a tasty snake fish hot pot filled with loads of tasty local vegetables.

There I sit watching the young couples in swan boats pedal across the lake and the tourists browsing through the flower gardens around the lake. It’s a pleasant spot and I realise that although Dalat has grown and lost some of it’s innocence and aesthetic appeal it still serves it’s a original purpose as a mountain retreat far from the heat and the noise of Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi.

After I sate my appetite I ponder over what to do with my afternoon. Perhaps, I shall again with a coffee! Nothing should be rushed in Dalat and life seems to run apace with the slow drip-drip of this bitter black drop.


Thu nhỏ
Travel consultancy