Friday, March 16, 2007

Dalat, March 15-16, 2007

The ride to Dalat from Nha Trang/Cam Ranh airport was long, bumpy, and curvey. Through a serious, early miscalculation on my part, I thought Dalat was only about 60 km from Nha Trang. WRONG, it's 220 km, mostly straight up.

Fortunately, I discovered this before we left Bangkok, so I had arranged a car and driver to take us to the famed Dalat Palace Hotel. Thursday, Mar. 15 turned out to be a long day of flying from Danang to Cam Ranh, then a drive of almost 4 hours. Fortunately, our driver was expert, and the arrival after dark without mishap. The air was cool and felt sooo good after the heat and humidity of the coast.

The hotel is a cream-colored, stucco Art Moderne structure on a hill overlooking a pretty lake, Ho Xuan Huong. After dropping our bags in a stunning 3rd floor room with three huge windows overlooking the lake, we had dinner in 'Larry's Bar' in the former wine cellar in the basement. Named for the famous/infamous co-founder of shipping marvel, DHL Worldwide Express, Larry Hillblom, the bar is cozy and the food a mixture of European and American. I had a Caesar salad and Louis a French-type hot dog! Hillblom, who lost the $40 million he invested in trying to save this old hotel, died in 1995 in an Asian plane crash leaving heirs of various legitimacy to fight over his huge estate. We're lucky that Sofitel/Accor stepped in and now runs the hotel in a thoroughly professional manner.

Dalat reminds me of Asheville, NC, but at higher altitude - at 4,900 ft. it's almost as high as Denver. At the turn of the 20th century, the French turned this outpost into a cool retreat from the Vietnamese tropics down below. After the railroad arrived in 1917, the hotel was opened in 1922. European villas in various states of repair dot the road around the pretty lake. Until 1954 it was also the home of Vietnam's last emperor, Bao Dai, of the Nguyen dynasty. He died in Paris in 1997 after a long exile, leaving many children from his five wives.

As appears to be the case everywhere in Vietnam, the roads here are clogged with motorbikes, trucks hauling the produce and flowers the region is famous for, and very few cars.

On the way up the mountain, we saw lots of greenhouses. Our driver, Dyung, said they are lighted all night, growing crops 24/7. I'd hate to live downhill from them - too bright to sleep.

Friday, we enjoyed breakfast seated at a terrace table in the perfect air, and visited the large flower garden at the other end of the lake. The orchids there were especially lush, with several varieties we'd not seen before.

There was a business communications meeting underway for Roche Communications. Young Asian executives were all over the hotel today, with lots of chanting teams (in various colors of baseball caps) on the front lawn doing a form of "bunny hop" kind of dance. Interesting.

High tea in mid-afternoon, reading, writing, and a fine dinner in Le Rabelais completed the day.

No comments: