Da Lat - Halfway to the heaven
Da Lat! Da Lat
As you may notice, the previous articles were based on some travels I'd taken across this S-shaped country so far. So lengthy those writings portray such times of physical experiences and mental evolution. Here is another long article of journey note-taking done late last year.
My travel is interupted for over half a year as I return to work and earn a living. Then October comes with tree marigold flowers blooming gorgeously in the highland. The vigorous yellow typifies the sheer start of winter, which urges my idle feet to roam about. And one late afternoon in Oct., I wind up riding my friend back to Binh Phuoc, where other friends of mine are waiting to commence a trip away together. As the dawn breaks over a lush green forest of rubber trees, and we are awaken by the cock's crow, and head for such a nice mountain city.
We all set foot in Da Lat 8 hours later, and quickly find a nice hotel to hole up. And there we go, pottering around the highland city, taking photos and stuffing local specialties. 3 days hanging out in the tourist hub of the highland bestows me such a wondrous time ever in my life, while friendships among us - the high-school squad of kids, find the firm ground to get intimately cemented.
Open roads toward the paradise
Da Lat looks faintly timid in October as patchy rains usually lash over the town, so for visitors, such inhospitable weather seems to scrap their travel plans. We also suffer that fickle weather, though, no matter how it turns, our squad never gets back to the hotel 'till the dusk dies off and the sky features twinkling stars.
Let's get started
When the dawn is breaking, the town looks like a fairy land, being veiled by a thick blanket of fog and soaked with chill and moisture. The downtown in the early morning echoes engine noise over the thoroughfares, waking up sleeping hotels and guesthouses in febrile excitement. Some pigeons perch on fences or strut along sidewalk, cooing rhythmically. A bougainvillea bush winding the gate in front of our hideaway, flourishes in purple blossoms. Some sticks filled by such captivating flowers jutting out to the street, swing about in morning breezes.
The town looks like a landscaped garden which is full of fragrant flowers and wondrous plants. Especially as spring comes, insects and butterflies hover around, the town is fermented with lingering essence. Everywhere indoor or outdoor find blossoms in full bloom, ooze out delicate scent tremendously flying over town. Tourists and city dwellers alike flock to the flower festival annually held at the city's flower garden, at which showcases a mammoth collection of flowers in various shapes and sizes. This very occasion sees hundreds of photographers stroll about to capture such beauty.
Just break the morning fast
At the time we head out to welcome the first sunshine of the day, a couple of old ladies and men stroll down the slope streets, slightly shivering with cold. The hotel we hole up is still torpid; there are a few guests upstairs and they all seem asleep at the moment.
6 of us motorcycle to break the fast with bread and xa xiu (meat balls) at a small eatery that is opposite to a back gate of Da Lat University. Small in size with catchy teeny decor, the eatery is famous for such a scrumptious dish, which most students in the university opt for their breakfast. The owner and waitress is a portly lady, who is friendly and caring. She hurries up to bring us some loaves of bread and several dishes of meat balls, with a pleasant smile always worn on her sweaty face. The price suits students' finance as well, which costs around VND15-20k a dish with 2 meat balls.
When it comes to the Mid Highlands, coffee just pops out as its distinct specialty. This territory abounds in fertile basalt on which coffee trees flourish. As we set foot on the mountains, it'd be of regret if we didn't drink a cup of ingenious coffee. Appearantly, the local cool weather also contributes itself to the striking taste. Lately, it's acquired generous recognition as making its way into Star Buck's, the world then come to know of Da Lat Arabica. Yeah, we end up sitting at a café and sipping such excellent coffee while doing some chitchat with each other. The price is real cheap, just some 10000VND/cup.
Time fleets fast and goes off in smoke through every tik tak whereas we enjoy ourselves so much that no trace of time bothers. Then the town is little by little lost in boisterous cacophony since vehicles increasingly move on the street, we come to hide ourselves inside Da Lat University. Founded in 1957 smack-dab in the heart of the city, the university sits on a hilly area of 40 hectares north of Xuan Huong Lake, adjacent to an international 18-hole golf course.
Dat Lat University
The campus that hosts a battery of styled buildings is hidden under lush green pine trees, making the university become a romantic and beautiful spot. Walking throughout the greenery, we all enjoy peace and tranquility as rewards to our journey. A few steps out of the shades, we witness several buildings whose architecture dates back to the Rise of Saigon.
The campus in October offers great landscape for photography. The bright open sky shines in silky sunlight, and matches up with green pine trees standing straight up along hilly tarred paths that are beautified by brilliantly-colored wild flowers around the campus. All sets up a scenic backdrop for memorable photos.
We have two members who studied and graduated from this school, showing us around with loads of tales being told. And as it's said, the multidisciplinary university both serves to boost local and national economy with high-quality labor force, and to lure a considerable number of tourists for the city.
When we pass several classrooms packed with students in colorful warm clothing, lessons being taught echo in an enthusiastic manner, spread over through paint-peeled walls, and vanish in endless breezes outdoors.
Van Hanh Meditation Temple
Leaving Da Lat University, we ride on to Van Hanh Meditation Temple nearby. At No. 39, Phu Dong Thien Vuong St. sits the Buddhist temple that was established in 1952 to serve as a meditating and learning place for local buddhists. Riding uphill past the gate, we stumble into a giant Buddha statue in golden color. There's also an artificial lake of fragrant lotus that gorgeously bloom in full and semi blossom.
Over the lake, there sits the main building catering to worship. Nice in Sino-styled architecture the ceremonial hall hosts some Buddha statues and exudes aromatic smell of incense . Other buildings beside are used for buddhists' residence and meditation practice as well. Despite incesssant noise down the streets, peace and silence permeate all over the temple. As gazing at the huge Buddha statue, I feel my heart come to gentle beats, my mind settle in peace and my health gain healing. And some inexpressible joy oozes out and an awe-inspiring smile spreads on my face.
Coming back from the main worship building where to offer incense to the Buddhas, my friends now in great pleasure hook up with me outside to take some snaps over the place. Looking from this hilly viewpoint, we are charmed by colorful house roofs downward the town. The sunshine is reflected against the huge golden-colored statue, making it catchy and hypnotizing.
Following on the same street about 3km away from Van Hanh Temple, we reach a scenic beautiful tourist site named Love Valley. Known under the name of Vallée d'Amour in 1930s, then the Peace Valley under Bao Dai King (the last king of Nguyen Dynasty), Love Valley features a lovely lake called Da Thien Lake, naturally created by multiple mountain springs.
Over the rainbow seen from Vong Canh Hill (Sightseeing Hill), the valley looming behind a dreamy morning mist paints a heavenly scene with a touch of time-ceasing, beholders then feel as if they just tread into a wonderland. The downhill flight of stairs runs to the lake, on the contrary that one could think of getting down to earth, leading straight to the mist-shrouded water bound by winding paths and beautified by pine forests. Couples hand-in-hand stroll about to celebrate their love, lending a romantic sensation.
We young kids walk by the lake, lie down on the ever-green grass under shady pine trees, feeling as if this is the heaven. Sheepish smiles broken, gentle gazes exchanged, the couple in my group seem to, if the others disappeared for a while, hunger for a kiss. Unfortunately the singles violently interrupt their romance (Yuk!)
Truc Lam Meditation Temple
Founded in 1993, Truc Lam (literally Bamboo Forest) Temple plays an important role as a religious hub as well as a famous tourist attraction of Da Lat. Promoting the Zen Buddhism created since Tran Dynasty with the primitive source on Yen Tu Mountain, the temple hides itself under leafy shades of pine trees that fringe along roads and wind beside Tuyen Lam Lake. This place is ideal for those, sanga and lay-people alike, who look for peace at heart to hole up off the bustle and hurtle of life.
From the downtown we ride backward the city entrance, go past the bus station and reach a turnoff smack in the Prenne Hill where a new tarred road leads us uphill to the temple. Climbing a 61-step flight, we find ourselves right in front of the main ceremonial hall in which pilgrims offer incense toward the Providence, that is, the statue Gautama Buddha seated on a lotus, flanked on either side by Văn Thù Sư Lợi and Phổ Hiền bodhisattvas, respectively known for their wisdom and dedication.
Downhill lay some houses for meditation as well as accommodation for monks and nuns. Along small roads winding around the hill with colorful flowers and awesome plants on the backdrop of verdant pine forests. Visitors trot here and there with their cameras to take some snaps of such fabulous landscape.
Hanging peacefully around such a sacred place finally finds us in front of the main gate where another fantastic sight stretches over as wandering fog hovers off and on above bushy greenery. Don't forget to capture such an excellent backdrop.
Tuyen Lam Lake
Right at the gate of Truc Lam Temple emerges a large road downhill toward Tuyen Lam Lake. As a man-made structure, the lake occupies 320ha that is the largest fresh water body in Da Lat. 7km away from the city center, Tuyen Lam lake attracts thousands of visitors monthly with its breathtaking landscape, and sits a heap of resorts and villas around. The emerald water flashes under the sun and dances cheerfully with fragrant breezes, which after all offers such sublime scenery for sightseeing and photography as well.
On the bank stands a small look-out tower, where we pay a visit to. At this point, we feast our eyes over the incredible lake, upon the pine tree-fringed farmost bank, and welcome essence-laden winds coming up and massaging our dusted faces. Beholding couples shooting some wedding shots here and there is of great delight. Happiness abounds, those soon-weds hold each other tight posing cozily as nature makes up with its own beauty - the navy-blue sky over the hazy forest that lies around a marvelous water. No glances avoid such a scene of paradise.
The Cock Cathedral
When the sun is setting over the horizon, we 6 kids ride back to town. The pine-covered hills stay afar from house-fringed thoroughfares as the city center strikes out. Though tired and hungry, we drop off at the Cock Church for the last stop of the day. Situated uphill from Xuan Huong Lake, the St. Nicholas Cathedral or St Nicholas of Bari Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic cathedral. As a replace for an old church built in 1917, the church was built by the French in 1931-1932 in an eclectic style Romanesque.
The exterior showcases a single tall bell tower, on top of which a metal turnable cock was placed to function wind directions and as a symbol of France. With 3 chambers, the interior of the church highlights vaulted ceilings that are supported by round even-arranged pillars. The arched ceiling is decorated with 70 colored glasses produced by Louis Balmet factory in Grenoble, France.
With 5 masses every Sunday, the church both serves as a Catholic practice hub and an interesting tourist attraction of the mountain city.
The journey goes on
Our senses revive after a restful sleep as a result of long travel, through fresh air and, specially, delectable smell emanating from a smoking broth pot at a nearby eatery. We end up sitting around a table and having bún giò (noodles with sliced pork legs). This is actually not a specialty in Da Lat, but it obtains such a great taste as served with local fresh raw vegetables.
A dish full of mixed veggies - including sliced cabbage and aromatic herbs - brought to the table, smells so good and works terrifically with the smell of Bun Gio. As saturated into the broth, the vegetables supplement a great taste to the dish. There seems to have nothing but this special noodle to better start a wondrous day in the highland city. The price is also reasonable, it costs around VND25k per bowl. Especially, the waitress is so nice and caring, she welcomes and serves us in natural pleasure.
The Clayed Village
In the morning we get off toward the sculptured tunnel or so-called clayed village, quietly situated near Tuyen Lam Lake, off the busy city. This is an astonishing structure of basalt that is commonly found in the middle highlands of Vietnam, including 2 main parts, say, about the evolution of Da Lat city and some meaning folk stories. Built in 2010 and owned by a rich Man - Trinh Ba Dung, the clayed village features a load of amazing statues, famous attractions of Da Lat city, which all are made of basaltic earth and meticulously sculptured. Here you can see the Cock Cathedral, the city train station Lang Biang Peak, as well as 3 statues of deaf-blind-dumb monkeys in Japanese culture or sculptured Vespa scooters.
Especially as features of the village, there are 2 clayed houses that cover 90m2 out of 500m2 on the whole. With a record of Guiness Vietnam, these houses illustrate a Vietnam's map and a bunch of sculptured stuff inside.
The entrance fee costs 40.000đ/adult, and 20 000đ/kids. Though far from the downtown, it's worthwhile to pay a visit. You can arrange to visit Truc Lam Temple, then Tuyen Lam Lake and finally this remarkable place on one way, because they all stay off the city but near to each other.
The Train Station
Coming back from the clayed village, we hit another attraction of Da Lat, say, the Train Station. Uphill from Xuan Huong Lake, the railway station was built in 1932 by French army, and officially ran in operation in 1938. Long abandoned in the latter phase of Vietnam War, it's been then in limited operation since the 1990s with the reopening of a 7 km (4.3 mi) section of track leading to the nearby village of Trai Mat, a tourist attraction of Da Lat.
Designed in the Art Deco architectural style by French architects Moncet and Reveron, the structure borrows the high, pointed roofs characteristic of the Cao Nguyen communal buildings of ethnic minorities from Vietnam's Central Highlands. The three roofs emerge from afar as representatives of the three peaks of Dalat's iconic Lang Biang mountain, as well as reminiscent of Normandy's Trouville-Deauville Station.
Decorated with multi-coloured glass windows under each roof, the station features a large clock mounted on the front central roof. The inside is spaces as the elevated roofs create a raised ceiling. At the front of the station is a Porte-cochère, or coach gate, supported by two rows of twelve columns each. With its unique design, the station became a national historical monument in 2001.
There we poise in front of the train or as a model for portrays done by a horde of artists sitting around in service. It's free for visit, so remember stop by and have fun.
Other places for visit
Such a long long writing reaches its end here as I can't express any of more details engraved in my mind. Here are thus some other places for visiting if you have more time to while. Well, Da Lat of course is famous for Lang Biang Peak, which costs some money to climb there. Then comes the Crazy House or Hang Nga Guesthouse designed and constructed by Vietnamese architect Đặng Việt Nga, which by the way costs for sightseeing. Or Da Lat Yesin College should be dropped by as well. And a bunch of vegetable plantations or, say, farms around town are worth visiting.
Getting to know a place is to learn its culture through, for instance, cuisine. Hung Grilled Spring Rolls (Nem nuong Bo Hung), spring rolls with local vegetables around the student area near Da Lat University and so on.
Then you must walk around Da Lat Night Market to enjoy plenty of special food as well as shopping for souvenirs. Anyway be careful with your belongings when you roam about, and of course, try some bargain as shopping as well.
Above are just some places we - a group of 6 young lads who paid a visit to Da Lat in Oct. 2015. I wish to utilize the present tense as a means of expression that can lend a sense of excitement and enthusiasm for the 3 day journey.
The photos used in the articles are both of the author and other online sources. For further information, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for your attention. Remember to check up further articles of mine if you're interested in this travel topic.
For other articles, please check out:
Tay Ninh Province at https://hubpages.com/travel/Tay-Ninh-Province-Why-not
Thu Duc Town at http://hubpages.com/travel/Thu-Duc-Saigon-A-joyful-suburb
Da Lat Half Way to Heaven at http://hubpages.com/travel/Do-we-need-a-long-trip-to-change-horses-in-midstream
Life Trap Escape at http://hubpages.com/travel/Life-Trap-Escape
Ke Ga Cape at http://hubpages.com/travel/Sunset-on-Ke-Ga-Lighthouse
Mui Ne Beach at http://hubpages.com/travel/Mui-Ne-Such-a-Paradise
Da Nang City at http://hubpages.com/travel/Thomas-Wanderlust
Hai Phong City at http://hubpages.com/travel/Hai-Phong-Once-Coming-Then-Staying
French Colonial Structures in Saigon at http://hubpages.com/travel/French-Colonial-style-Architecture-in-SG
Top 3 things to do in Saigon Vietnam at http://hubpages.com/travel/Top-ten-things-you-must-do-in-Saigon-Vietnam
Can Gio a nice choice at http://hubpages.com/travel/Can-Gio-A-nice-choice
Cat Ba Island at https://hubpages.com/travel/Cat-Ba-Island-Shining-in-the-Sun
Ta Dung at https://hubpages.com/travel/Ta-Dung-Vietnam-A-Pearl-of-The-Highlands