Surrounded by gentle hills and scenic areas, the highland city of Da Lat is still home to intriguing beauty in spite of the growing population, the rise in modern architecture and the number of tourists, said Nhat Ha.
I was a touch disappointed when my car first drove into Da Lat. The city doesn’t look or feel like the old European styled-mountain retreat I remember discovering 10 years ago. There are more nondescript modern buildings, and the multi-storeys which once dominated the capital city of Lam Dong province have retreated into the distance. Da Lat is synonymous with fragrant pine-forested hills, misty-wet mornings and French colonial-period villas – but have these sides of Da Lat now been crowded out by modernism?
Oddly, it didn’t even seem that chilly. I remembered wrapping myself up in the cardigan, scarf and hat on the cool mornings and evenings 10 years ago. Had the trend of urbanisation warmed up the city? Or was global warming to blame?
I checked into Ngoc Lan Hotel overlooking the city centre and Xuan Huong lake. I then dumped my bags and strolled down to a familiar spot from my past – the Artist’s Café by Da Lat Market.
Iced coffees – compulsory in most of southern Vietnam – are less common in this mountain town. The temperature may have warmed by everyone at the Artist’s Café is sitting over a hot cup of coffee. The thick scent hung in the air and filled me with nostalgia. I ordered one and sat 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) of Pho Xuan Café (Spring Street Café).
Such cafés in Da Lat are simple and unpretentious. Locals and tourists share a long bench while savouring the coffee and the pleasant atmosphere around Xuan Huong Lake. The coffee shops are often crowded but always cosy and peaceful. It’s still the best way to start your day in Da Lat. As I sipped my coffee, I watched the customers come and go from the flower stalls where piles of beautiful roses and daisies slowly vanish.
Sometimes described as the City of Love, Da Lat is a popular spot for honeymooners – here and there you will see newly weds posing for photos. But the city also attracts artists, photographers, writers and poets, who all came to the scenic and serene town in search of inspiration. Indeed many artists have decided to stay and take up permanent residence in the town.
The hill-station is a retreat town, a place to kick back and relax far from the worries of the world and the heat of the coastal plains. The fairytale land was quite literally a breath of fresh air for the French tourists.
After my coffee I decided to rent a motorbike – VND100,000 a day – and drive to Lam Dong Museum. As I drove down Tran Hung Dao street, I noticed a number of villas which had been renovated or restored and now looked in mint condition. The brand new Da Lat Cadasa Resort is a particularly stunning structure, surrounded by vast gardens, pine trees and flowers. The resort features 23 charming French styled villas. Each has a different style, but generally they all bear the architectural hallmarks of villas from Normandy in northern France.
After that, I decided to escape the confines of the city and drive out to explore the surrounding hills and valleys. Exiting the city, I passed the stunning Evason Ana Mandara Villas Da Lat Resort & Spa on Le Lai street, another picturesque resort boasting 17 restored French colonial villas scattered around 35 acres of parkland, with 65 elegantly furnished guestrooms in total.
My rambling journey continued past thatched houses, coffee plantations and flower farms. I decided to pop into a plantation to see where my cup of coffee came from. The farmer was friendly and informative – and not because he thought I was here to buy beans wholesale!
The tree-house contains cavern-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 garden is a weird grotto of aviaries, concrete toadstools and steel spiders webs. It is apparently Da Lat’s top tourist attraction. I stand in awe as hordes of Vietnamese and foreign tourists scramble around.
Back by Xuan Huong Lake, I finally sit down to lunch at Thanh Thuy Café. The Vietnamese menu had a decent salad with blanched beef and a tasty snake fish hot pot filled with loads of local vegetables.
I sat watching the young couples in swan boats pedal across the lake and the tourists browsing through the flower gardens around the lake. It was a pleasant spot and I realised although Da Lat has grown and lost some of its innocence and aesthetic appeal, it still serves its an original purpose as a mountain retreat far from the heat and the noise of Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi.
After I sated my appetite I pondered over what to do with my afternoon. Perhaps, I would sit again with another coffee! Nothing should be rushed in Da Lat, and life seeing to run apace with the slow drip-drip of the bitter black drop.
Source – CamauTravel