Friday, May 22, 2009

Da Lat, a charming hill station

Da Lat is about 300 Km away from HCM city. We left Tan My Dinh 2 Hotel at 9 am which was not a good time. We got into the traffic jam again. It took us one hour just to leave HCM city. We learnt another thing here, i.e. aviod peak hour in big city. When we got to National Road 1, we were stuck in the heavy cargo traffic. N1 is the major road connecting HCM city to Ha Noi. Although it is only 300 km, it took us about 8.5 hours to arrive at Da Lat. Half way into the hill, the traffice came to standstill. Thuan, our guide, told us after his investigation that the road was temporary closed at 100 meters ahead due to excavation work. Estimate closure would be at least 45 minutes. This excavation work was to prevent rock falling from the hillside in raining season for safety reaons. The month of May is the starting of raining session. If the earth holding the rocks in place got washed away, the lossen rock would fall. Imagin when you drive pass here and the 200 Kg rock comes crashing into your car.

Everyone waited patiently for the road to clear as there was no alternative. Most people were taken a unsheduled stop and walked around. Some people were just staring at the stream which is about 30 meters below. Finally, the road was cleared in an hour.

About 30 km away from Da Lat, police set up road block checking over loading vehicles. While the policeman waving saloon cars through casually, he took notice of our car because of left-hand-drive. He pointed his baton and signal me to pull over. This was the second time we got stop by the police in Vietnam. The first time was in HCM city. The traffic police overtook us and signaled us to pull over. Neo Chian was driving then. What did we do wrong this time? We got down and asked Thuan to stay in the car. The police kept pointing at the car and asked us in Vietnamese. We realised it was not getting anywhere and asked Thuan to come down. Thuan shown him all the approval papers from the police HQ, temporary driving license etc. He walked around the car and asked how much the car costs. Through Thuan, Neo Chian answered USD60,000. He nodded his head, returned all the papers and left. All these were ober in 10 minutes. Later Thuan told us that he liked our car and never seen a right-hand-drive car before and he stopped us so that he could have a closer look. He wanted t know how much Neo Chian paid for this car.

This time, we told Thuan to go right into it and settle the issue. The policeman looked aggressive and told Thuan that it is illegal to drive this car in Vietnam and would be fined up to 20M Dong.s Thuan shown him all the permits..His expression changed. Knowing that this car got permission for Vietnam, he couldn't find a reason to hold us. He returned my International Driving License and let us go. I asked him if I could take a photo with him. He obliged.

Da Lat, this former French hill station with its own mini replica of the Eiffel Towere stands 1400 meters above sea level . Average daily temperature ranges from 15 to 24 degree C, similar to Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Da Lat was founded by French in 1900. We arrived Da Lat around 5.30 pm. There were many guest houses around but we settled for Novatel for a twin room for two reasons. Firstly, we needed reliable and high speed internet connection for picture uploading. Second, Novotel manages the only golf course in Da Lat. Da Lat is a popular holiday destination for the locals. However, this year, not so many locals were here yet. Occupancy rate is way down. The duty manager offered us one golf round with rental clubs and two nights stay for USD260. The room rate was USD71 per night and green fees with rental club was USD59 per person.

Novotel converted an old colonial buiiding into hotel. There are two tall Pine trees outside the hotel. Its dinning facility is in another building across the road. The dinning building was so beautifully lited at night. This would be a nice place to spend X'mas because it is not far from Singaore. You can easily fly into HCM City and transfer to domestic flight to Da Lat directly. The cool weather here sure add to the festive atmosphere.

In the evening, we walked 10 minutes to central of the city for dinner. . It was cool at night and I had my jacket on as the temperature was 22 degree C, I guessed. We dined at this lakeside restaurant. The food was ordinary but the view was good. From the restaurant, we could see Da Lat's own mini replica of the Eiffel Towere on top of the hill. After dinner, we walked their "Pasar Malam". The night market was busy and crowded. Locals ate and shopped there. Most stalls laid their stuff on the roadside. Behind these stalls, there were shops. This liquor store was beautifully layout. It shown distinctively Chinese influence as the signage was in Chinese. Two lantents hang on each side had a word "Wine". The store was well stocked with variety of Chinese spirits and wine. If there is a shop display contest, I would vote it for the best shop design.

e booked a tee time at 8 am. at Dalat Palace Golf Club. This golf course was built in 1923, abandoned in 1945 and revived in 1954. At the lobby, we met Graham Dodd from Australia. He was here since Monday and golfed everyday. Three of us formed a flight. Neo Chian and I took a picture with our caddies. It was a warm morning, temperature around 26 degree. Neo Chian played very well. At the end of the game, I lost to Neo Chian by 8 holes. If you are thinking of having a golf game with him, ask for as many strokes as you can.

Da Lat city was bulit in 1905. The first villa built was the Governor General Palace for Frence governor. Now its became the People's Committe office. Over the years since 1905, many villas and nice homes were added. When we drove into the Da Lat, it was refreshing to see so many gorgeous and elegant villas and homes. For a moment, you might think you are in a city in Europe. We added a walking tour in the morning just to see, admire and enjoy the beauty of these stylish villas along Tran Hung Dao .

Second evening, when we drove around the city to look for nice place for dinner, we came across this restaurant and decided to check it out. We were told that it was the palace built by the last king of Vietnam, Bao Dai for the queen. We ordered a bowl of seafood soup each, steamed tofu and their specialty, Roasted Chicken.

The Tofu was ordinary but the Roast Chicken was very tasty. It was good. Their chicken was similar to our Kampong chicken, tougher than the chicken we bought from Supermarkets in Singapore

From Da Lat to Hui An is more than 500 km. We decided to spent a night in Nha Trang before Hui An. We estimated the journey would only take 2.5 hours. So, we went to the Crazy House, the Palace of Bao Dai King and the flower garden before we left Da Lat. Entrancce fees were required at these attractions.

The Crazy House

The entrance of the Crazy House reminded me about Har Par Villas. There were 10 uniquely designed rooms in the giant manmade tree trunks. Each room has its own theme. This one is Kangaroo room. It would be a fun place to stay a night to enjoy the creativity of the owner.

The Bao Dai Palace
Up on top of a hill, this is the Palace of the last king, Bao Dai. He was the 13th and last ruler of the Nguyen Dynasty. From 1926 to 1945, he served as king (or emperor) of Annam, now the northern two-thirds of Vietnam.

The Reception room of King Bao Dai.

This is a picture of my feet. We were required to put on these shoes covers before you can enter the Palace.

The private room of Queen Nam Phuong.

Flower Garden

Neo Chian remembered he visited a busy flower market the last time he was here and thought that was worth revisiting. However, the flower market was replaced by the flower garden. The garden was well maintained but nothing like our Botanic Garden.


  1. Another great post Uncle Sunny (props to your editor too)! The pictures are great and I love the write up. especially the last post about watching the motorcycles... =D!


  2. Thanks, I hope to pick up more interesting storey along the way.