The Colours of Spring

Dalat is one of those cities on the tourist trail that visitors often flock to Vietnam for it’s rich colonial history and cool weather. Much has been written about this lovely getaway city which is located 1,500 m (4,900 ft) above sea level on the Langbian Plateau in the southern part of the Central Highlands region. It’s renowned for it’s temperate climate and characteristic French boulevards and colonial architecture. What is today the city of Dalat originally started life as a retreat for the French during their occupation of Indochina.

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City square at dusk.

If I had to draw parallels, I would have to say it’s similar in vein to Bokor Highlands in Kampot, Cambodia, incorporated by the French as well, and Cameron Highlands in Malaysia which was a highland destination for British colonials in the early 1900’s. Stuck in the sweltering heat of Asia on their respective tours of duty, officers of the Imperial Crown and their families must truly have missed European weather back then.

Approximately seven hours out of Saigon by bus, Dalat is hugely popular with tourists making the northbound trek across South Vietnam. Having said that, I didn’t quite get the feeling that it was overly touristy, unlike Saigon. Much of the activity in Dalat is centered around it’s bustling market place which I found filled with more locals than tourists.

Like every city I’ve visited, there are several notable places of interest but this blog post is neither a list of 10 must-see places in Dalat nor is it going to be an itinerary of what-to-do for the uninitiated. Far from it, it’s about the colours of Dalat.

What struck a chord with me upon arrival in Dalat is it’s abundant flora and fauna. While people across the northern hemisphere were freezing their mitts off counting down to the first day of spring, I was marvelling at the sights of an explosion of colourful blooms in the City of Eternal Spring. Not something you’re likely to write home about or find written about in a travel blog I’m sure but it’s the crux of my little story here.

Right off the bat, from the scorching 33+°C heat of Saigon, Dalat’s 25-27°C daytime weather is immediately a welcoming change. Overnight temperatures drop to a low of 18°C on some nights. It’s not surprising then that most forms of vegetation, orchards and flower gardens thrive on this fertile highland plateau. Even wild untended to vegetation along the streets appear to flourish and add immensely to the splendour of this little city that surrounds the expansive Xuan Huong lake.

The flower park along the lake is enormous. Only a short walk from the marketplace, it is easily the largest flower park I’ve ever been to. Almost like an outdoor museum of the hundreds of species of flowering plants and orchids on display. Every vivid colour of the rainbow liberally spread across rows and rows of beautifully laid out sprawling flower beds from one end of the park to the other.

As I walked and walked and walked, I felt the presence of my father. Walking along side me as it were, taking in the sights too. Initially it felt a little strange, however I began to realise that this was what he loved and just maybe, he was there in spirit to witness this together with me.

Dad was a botanist by education, loved his plants and had an incredibly green thumb. His knowledge of all things related to flora was amazing and a life long passion he held dearly. I remember our family trips to Cameron Highlands when I was a young boy. I’d often walk in his footsteps on our jungle treks. While I didn’t understand everything he said at the time, he would often excitedly point out unique and unusual plants or trees, giving me their scientific names, all from memory. He was a walking text book when it came to these things.

At the flower park and throughout my visit in Dalat, I felt as if he was there with me. Like a little boy let loose in a toy store, I’m certain he would have been over the moon seeing nature in all it’s glory bursting with colour. I for one certainly can’t tell any of these species apart save for perhaps the obvious ones, roses or the odd orchid, but I bet he’d have known the scientific names of each and every one of them.

From the exuberant gardens at Trúc Lâm temple to the lush lakeside park and on to the many rich flower beds across the city, it’s a sea of colour that adds so much character to this cool little city up in the highlands of Vietnam. The tourists didn’t disappoint either, they were out in numbers and taking advantage of the unending colourscapes for their once in a lifetime selfies.

You never really know when a memory of a loved one will pop into your head. As unlikely as it was, I remembered my dad for something as mundane as his love for plants in a far away land. One that he never got to visit in his life time. Perhaps it was not just my imagination, perhaps he was indeed there with me.

Just like I did years ago, I’d like to think he walked in my footsteps instead and I’m sure he’s smiling somewhere up there having seen the city of eternal spring through the eyes of his son.

The Roving Photographer
March 15, 2016

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