Dalat: Lost Shangrila

VNAF PHOTOS section –vnafmamn.com




Gougah waterfall     In the issue of August, 2005, the Smithsonian magazine ran an article about Vietnam with the cover subtitle: "VIETNAM'S SHANGRI-LA." Inside on page 68, Stanley Karnow, a veteran reporter wrote "Return to Da Lat," describing his experience in a recent trip to the resort city where he used to stay for a short respite during his Vietnam War coverage assignment. He found that "...Da Lat still remains much of its old-fashioned charm..."

     I don't think the guy "lied," but unless for commercial advertisement to lure the tourists to this mountain resort (today, tourists tend to flock to the coastal resort areas), Stanley Karnow is just an ignorant. He doesn't know much about that resort city (rather than doing some researches and visiting a few invited spots). Perhaps this is one of the good examples that reveal the same kind of norm that most Western journalists took when they wrote the reports about the Vietnam War in the past.

     To be correct, The Smithsonian should name its article: "DALAT: THE LOST SHANGRI-LA."

     How the hell I know and say so? It's a sad assesment of Dalat natural deterioration based on the observation and reports from many of my friends, who were the old-timers of that city and had a chance to return to it recently.

      Indeed, the "Shangri-La" of Vietnam today has gone, not only its old people, but the places and its romantic atmosphere also! If any remains, it's the deception of the melancholy feeling of nostalgia. Dalat today is crowded and hassled, not tranquil and romantic as it's used to be any more. Its misty pine-forests have been chopped down for many kinds of commercial constructions and projects. Its pristine adjacent lakes have been dried up (the St. Benoit and Than Tho 'Sorrow' lakes) due to long time negligence and illegal irrigation. The same terrible fate happened to many attractive waterfalls near Dalat (due to poor study and irresponsible plan of Dai Ninh hydropower plants). The Xuan Huong lake now became a pond of brownish muddy water (you can see it obvious from an airliner). The Cam Ly stream has turned out to be tacitly the city sewage channel, trickling down dirty water. The green hillsides had been being invaded for vegetable farmland. And once the forests are gone, the misty layers of fog gone too, so the cold weather! Just like the effect of greenhouse gases on earth. How about the tourist landmarks? They all look artificial, clumsy renovation, bearing no more the delicate touch of natural landscapes. Hey, and the cultural characteristics of that city have also died along with the landscape long ago. Guess what: The Old University of Dalat; Giao Hoang Hoc Vien Institution (Collegium Pontificium Sancti Pii X); National Military Academy of Vietnam (equivalent to US West Point Academy); Political Warfare College of Dalat; and the Lycee Yersin! All were gone!

     So today, on this webpage, I am going to post some of the old photos of Dalat before 1975; when even at a wartime, it was still an enchanted Shangri-La. But don't get disappointed, if you have a chance to return to that old mountain resort, you still may catch the beauty and cool salubrious weather of the long gone Shangri-La by doing just a simple thing: Wake up real early (when tourists, merchants, inhabitants, pick-pockets, beggars, solicitors...all the hassle are still at sleep), walk out of the luxurious hotel, stroll along the misty streets, expose yourself to the Dalat surroundings. At that short moment of early dawn, you will rediscover the old spirit of the "LOST SHANGRI-LA."

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DALAT Detailed Map     Click on the thumbnail map on the left to open a FULL SCALE MAP OF DALAT AND ITS VICINITIES (1/250,000 scale). This map was made and used around 1966 so it bore all the beloved names of locations when South Vietnam was still a Free Nation. Because it's a detail map (432k file), it would take a little longer to open.

Actually this is the map of Tuyen Duc Province (located in central highland of Vietnam). Tuyen Duc Province consists of Dalat city and three more Districts (kind of remote small towns): Lac Duong District (North of Dalat); Don Duong District (Southeast); and Duc Trong District (South). The map is detailed enough I can find the tiny Montargnard hamlet (Kamboutte) where I had stationed in some months for Pacification Campaign (1974).

Death of PONGOUR Waterfall
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Pongour     Hydropower plants and rampant deforestation appear to have doomed many popular waterfalls near the central highlands city of Da Lat, Vietnam's premier honeymoon spot. "It's terrible – this place looks completely different," Australian tourist Susan complained during her recent trip to the Pongour waterfall near Da Lat.

"The waterfall doesn't look anything like the one my friends and I visited here two years ago."

British tourist Julia was also aghast at the difference between the trickle of water she saw and the wonderful description of the waterfall she had read in her guide book.

Many of the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the Pongour waterfall in Duc Trong District each year share Susan and Julia's disappointment at the state of the once-beautiful site.

Pongour, also known as Thac Thien Thai (Eden Waterfall), Thac Bay Tang (Seven-Level Waterfall) and Nam Thien De Nhat Thac (the First Waterfall Under the Sky of Vietnam), is about 50 kilometers from Da Lat.

Standing 40 meters high and 100 meters wide, the waterfall draws around 250,000 tourists a year.

The waterfall began drying up in January when a dam was completed for the nearby Dai Ninh hydropower plant.

The Dai Ninh hydropower complex will generate 1.2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year to help alleviate Vietnam's growing power shortage.

The Dat Nam tourism firm, which manages the tourism site at Pongour waterfall, said it tried using three pumps to boost water flows to the waterfall, with little effect. Though the local Lam Dong provincial administration has instructed the hydroelectric plant management to release water from its reservoir in the dry season to provide water to the Pongour waterfall, the directive has so far been ignored.

The Dai Ninh hydroelectric plant is also taking a heavy toll on other popular waterfalls around Da Lat, with Gougah Falls, about 36 kilometers from Da Lat, among the tourist spots being affected.

The falls are said to be where Princess Huyen Tran stashed her treasure in the 14th century. Another dam, this one linked to the Da Nhim hydropower plant, has rendered the nearby Lien Khuong Falls seriously dry.

In addition to the upstream dam, the waterfalls are also being damaged by widespread deforestation, which is silting up the waterways.

Foregone conclusion

Aware of the damage already done to the Gougah and Lien Khuong waterfalls, the Lam Dong government has recently proposed the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism revoke the national tourist site status of the waterfalls, granted in 2000. Lam Dong authorities, who are monitoring other deteriorating waterfalls in the province, warned other popular tourist sites, such as the Prenn, Cam Ly and Voi waterfalls were also being seriously damaged.

The province's Department of Culture and Information criticized the poor coordination between agencies in the lead-up to the commissioning of hydropower plants. The government said it had very little input into the feasibility study conducted before the hydropower plants were built.

posted by Mike Weston (source: chao-vietnam)

DALAT (Indochine Era)
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Dr.Yersin     Alexandre Yersin was born in 1863 in Vaud - Morges, Switzerland. In 1882 he received a baccalaureate degree in literature, and in 1888, after having graduated from medical school in Paris, he formally changed his citizenship to French. He joined Dr. Louis Pasteurs team at about the same time. There after, Dr. Yersin became famous through many of the pioneering work done by Pasteurs team. His wanderlust brought him to Vietnam.

On July 1891, his expedition to the highlands of Vietnam brought to the discovery of Da Lat, and later many water sources in this region. He was also credited for the discoveries of many mysteries in the western highlands of Vietnam.

Although Yersin loved Da Lat, his home is located in Nha Trang. In Nha Trang, Yersin built the Pasteur institute, named after his mentor. Dr. Yersin also had a ranch in Nha Trang. He raised horses to do his research in immunology. He also contributed to the Vietnamese rubber industry, as he is responsible for introducing the Brazilian rubber tree to Vietnam. Alexandre Yersin was also responsible for the first quinquina plantations in Vietnam, where quinine are produced.

Dr Yersin led a simple life in Nha Trang. He was beloved by the people in the region for his humility and care he gives to the people. He bought and old abandoned barrack and painted it white. It doubles as both his living quarters and his laboratory. The locals lovingly calls his home Lau Ong Nam (Home of Fifth Uncle) or Thap Nga (Ivory tower).

In 1940, Alexandre Yersin in poor health, returned to France for the last time. In 1941, he returned to his beloved home in Nha Trang where he remained and passed away in January 3, 1943 at the age of 80. In his will, he requested to be buried in Nha Trang, close to his beloved people. Every year, out of respect and gratitude to his contribution to this region, there are still many people coming to visit his grave in Nha Trang.
(Source: Vietscape)