The difference in atmosphere is glaringly evident as we arrive in Da Lat from HCM City. The air is fresh and we feel energised instantly.
As a minibus from the Edensee Resort takes us from the airport to the hotel, we see that Da Lat is very well taken care of, with good, clean roads and a profusion of blooms that have made it famous as the City of Flowers.
At Prenn Pass, just past the Datanla Waterfall, the bus turns left into a rolling pine forest and we see the immense, aptly-named Tuyen Lam Lake. Tuyen means stream and Lam stands for forest, and Tuyen Lam is where the twain always meet. The lake was created by a dam built between 1982 and 1987. Its water source is the Tia stream in the upstream section of the Da Tam River (which flows from the Elephant Mountain). The 32sq.km lake, which is 23m deep, is 4km southwest of Da Lat and 2km off National Road 20.
Surrounded by hills and trees, the lake wears a mysterious air and we feel instinctively that it is loath to give up its secrets. As our minibus goes further up, the roadside turns rocky. Soon we can see that Tuyen Lam is no longer just a place for the stream to meet the forest. There are a lot of luxury houses that have been built in the lush green forest, and among them are some lavish resorts, like the one we have just arrived at.
The Dalat Edensee compound looks like a European village surrounded by pine trees.
Pull up a chair: Picturesque landscape from the Panorama Terrace at the Dalat Edensee.
The architecture blends harmoniously with the natural scenery surrounding it.
Surrounded by the lake on three sides and the 1,600m high Pinhat Mountain on the other, Edensee nestles in the lap of a grove with thousands of green pine trees.
We get a chance to admire the lake at close quarters on a motorboat. Around each bend, the scenery seems to change, giving us a spellbinding slideshow of hills, mountains and forests, and the landscape acquires greater depth with multiple layers. Their reflections flicker in the lake’s waters.
We also visited the sluice with 10 rock steps standing amidst the wooded mountains. Are they waiting for a sculptor to place a beautiful statue at the top, I wondered.
Further away is the small Bao Dai waterfall named after the last king of Viet Nam who used to pass by during his hunting expeditions.
Back at the resort, we are treated to superb views of the lake from our luxurious, cosy rooms that even have fireplaces to warm up Da Lat nights that can be very chilly. The lake was particularly beautiful in the late afternoon, with the soft sunlight becalmed by the chanting of monks at the Truc Lam Monastery on the other side of the lake.
In the morning, the lake looks fresh and wide, and given a Mediterranean touch to the Edensee Resort, it is easy to imagine we are in Italy or the south of France. Breakfast tastes delicious, accompanied by the clean air we breathe in deeply as we sit on the terrace.
We decide to visit the Truc Lam Monastery, a walk of 4km from the resort. Along the road winding up the hill to the temple, the bell tower is clearly visible from afar. The tiled roof of the pagoda is also prominent against the pine forests that surround it. There is a direct entrance to the temple with 61 steps, and there is the option of going past the lake and climbing 222 steps to the entrance and the main courtyard in front of the temple. As we enter the monastery founded by Zen Master Thich Thanh Tu, a monk welcomes us and shows us around. The traditional Vietnamese architecture and the high vantage point that it offers to view the surrounding lush landscape makes the monastery a very attractive place to visit.
We are invited to have lunch with the monks. The vegetarian fare is delicious and we eat in silence. In the late afternoon, we are allowed to witness the ceremonies of the monks. Listening to the sounds of their chanting, which seem to reverberate all over the lake and sanctify the entire landscape, is an amazing experience. After watching the sunset from the monastery we return to the resort for a sumptuous dinner.
We visit Da Lat City the next morning. It is easy to understand why this is a popular honeymoon destination for Vietnamese couples. Like all hill resorts, there is a romantic, holiday feel to the place, despite the increasingly urbanised look that it sports these days.
The city has a wonderful market where we can taste the famous fruits and vegetables of Da Lat. The streets are quiet compared to HCM City, with the motorbikes more polite and in less of a hurry to get somewhere.
We skip the wide variety of outdoor sports entertainment on offer and return to Edensee, and give ourselves up to the care of its wonderful spa, which relaxes, soothes and revitalises our stiff and sore muscles.
The resort’s owners, a gentle couple who live in Germany and Vietnam, see us off in person, modestly accepting the generous praise we have for their staff and the overall experience of our stay, which is thoroughly enjoyable.