Monday, 5 November 2012

Dalat - The French Alps of Asia (Part I)

Dalat is eight-hour away from Ho Chi Minh City by bus. It is different from most other places in Vietnam. Dalat was where the French chose to build villas and houses for their summary get-aways during the French Colony. It is an European/French style resort destination built in the highlands. Hence it is sometimes called the French Alps of Asia.

I must admit I was a little bit disappointed when our bus first arrived the town. Having left most of the planning and preparation of this trip to the husband, I did not read much on Dalat and was half expecting something Shangri-La. It turned out Dalat was not exactly Shangri-La style. The town looked busy.

However, I soon fell in love with this unique place. It is tranquil on one hand - with its pine-covered hills, picturesque Xuan Huong lake, vivid blue skies, fresh air and French-style resorts, it is also lively on the other - just look at the night market, the alleys of shops and cafes, the roundabouts and motorbikes on the road. Yes there are motorbikes just like any other cities in Vietnam.

It is not exactly utopian but it is definitely a holiday paradise.

View of Dalat town from cable car station

The valley and the Xuan Huong lake in the evening, from our hill resort

If I did not fall in love at first sight for Dalat, I did for our resort - Dalat Cadasa resort. It is one of the few heritage resorts built by the French on poetic hills and overlooking the picturesque lake in the valley. It comprises as many as 22 fully refurbished villas, each unique on its own. Just look at the pictures here will take your breath away.

Dalat Cadasa Resort
Breakfast hall made of glass panels, right in the middle of the garden
Our villa on the hill, with the back window facing the lake

If our holiday had been longer, we would probably spend one whole day in the resort by doing nothing. But we only have one and a half day here so we don't have a minute to waste. To travel in and out of the town, we rented a motorbike. Yes, if you hadn't have the gut to rent a motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City, do it in Dalat, it is the best way to get around this place.

Our first station - Dalat Railway Station. This Art Deco creation was designed by French architects in 1932 and opened to public in 1938. Inside the train station we saw one Plateau rail road carrier and one steam engine locomotive. Both are quietly parked there to tell you something about the history of this place and the people who had come and go.

Dalat train station

The Plateau carrier

Taking a cable car ride over the pine forests, transquil lakes and farm houses, what better way to look at Dalat from this angle?

Cable car station

Cable car above pine-covered hills

Dalat Palace is one of three palaces and summer home of the colonial-era, last emperor of Vietnam Bao Dai. We actually thought it was a palace itself but it is apparently built to be a "Palace hotel" with its majestic style and historical architecture. It was built in 1922 under the French Governor. It is full of antiques inside. The front garden is huge and it's overlooking the Xuan Huong Lake. It rendered most hotels in Ho Chi Minh City just too average.

Dalat Palace
Inside Dalat Palace hotel

Front garden

We went back to the town center to have our lunch. The streets are bathing the sun in a hot and bright afternoon. Below is a photo of the one of the streets, on the left are are a row of cafes overlooking the street below. At the end of the street is the roundabout and the lake is just across.

Dalat street and its French symbol

Our cafe is right at the end of the street, with a glass panel separating us from the traffic and the heat outside, it is just the right spot to enjoy our food while comtemplating about a unique place and its past glory.

Our cafe at the corner of the street

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