It was misty in Dalat as I found myself standing at the highest point in the highlands city, on top of Lang Biang Mountain, which stands 2,167 metres above sea level. It was fantastic to enjoy the cool atmosphere and poetic panoramic views of the highlands in the early sunlight, with the Truong Son Mountain Range in the distance and lakes, a green patchwork of farms and houses and an immense pine forest stretching out before me.
Duyen, our young tour guide, told our group about the legend of Lang Biang Mountain. It is a love story and reminded me a little of Romeo and Juliet. A young man, K’lang (of the Lat people, a branch of the K’ho ethnic minority group), and a girl, H’biang (of the Chil, another branch of the K’ho group), were living at the foot of the mountain. They loved each other but their love was forbidden given the enmity between their groups. They married without their families’ agreement then ran away from their village to the top of the mountain to live together and protect their love. When H’biang became ill her husband tried every way possible to save her but it wasn’t enough. They therefore returned to their villages to seek help. The villagers, though, tried to kill K’lang, but H’biang took an arrow intended for him and died. He died soon after from a broken heart. The mountain they escaped to bears their names: Lang Biang.
The road from the foot of Lang Biang Mountain to its peak runs for about 6 km, passing through pine forests as it winds its way upwards. It takes 15 minutes to reach the peak by Jeep or nearly two hours by foot. Rather than ascending and then descending by Jeep as us we did, which costs VND50,000 per person, many groups of young people, both Vietnamese and foreign, prefer to walk and take in the surroundings up close. I met Thanh and his friends at the top of Lang Biang, where they excitedly took photos to celebrate reaching the peak on foot.
We visited the Lat ethnic minority village at the foot of Lang Biang, where the Lach people (also called Lat or Mlates) live. Most of their houses are made from wood, as per their tradition, while a few are made from concrete. Some are very old, at more than 100 years, and were built by the French when they first set foot in the area in the early 19th century. Walking along a path I saw mothers carrying their children on their back, held by a cloth band, while some men repaired an old wooden house. The life of the Lach people has changed a lot in recent years after Lang Biang Mountain became a tourism destination in Dalat.
We visited a church in the centre of the village. I was surprised to see a holy cross with a buffalo horn underneath on the top of the church. The Lach people are matriarchal, we were told, and the buffalo horn is a holy symbol in their traditional beliefs and most people in the village are Catholics. When we entered the church I saw a large, cleverly-carved spiritual tree painted in different colours with a buffalo horn attached. The woman decorating the inside of the church with flowers told me that the spiritual tree dates back to their ancestors and has been preserved from generation to generation. In the village are families who still perform the traditional craft of brocade weaving.
Nowadays, although modern life influences their culture, the Lach people still retain their traditions. They are still matriarchal, in which women play the most important role in family and village life. Women are free to choose who they marry. Upon finding the right man, the woman and her family bring betrothal gifts to the future husband’s family, such as buffaloes, gongs and precious objects, and ask for his hand in marriage. Many of the traditions of the Lach people are different to those found elsewhere and can be quite fascinating.
Tourists can take an evening tour to experience the Lach people’s traditional culture, such as gong and traditional dance performances, drinking cần wine, or enjoying the typical cuisine of the village.
Flower and strawberry farms
Dalat has a name as Vietnam’s flower kingdom, so there was no chance I would miss visiting its most famous and largest flower village, Van Thanh, which is just 3 km from the city centre. We strolled through many gardens along alleyways in the village, which sits in a long valley on the banks of Cam Ly Stream. I felt enchanted by the colours and the aromas of the many types of flowers: lilies, roses, daisies, gerberas, orchids, and hydrangeas. It was fascinating to watch farmers cut their flowers in the morning and to buy fresh bunches of roses and lilies.
Van Thanh flower village was established in the 1960s by farmers coming from northern Ha Nam province. There are now some 300 families planting flowers on a total area of 200 ha. Most apply high technology, using glass houses and net houses.
Leaving the flower village we had pleasant time pretending to farmers at a strawberry farm. We walked along beds of strawberries, selecting the best and enjoying the setting. My children were so keen they picked full baskets of strawberries, weighing over 2 kilos.
My family and I had three days in Dalat, staying in a lovely boutique hotel on a quiet street in the heart of the city with a small flower garden and ancient pine trees. Time seemed to slow down and allow us to enjoy every moment. We had an outdoor afternoon tea and coffee in a romantic space of sunlight, flowers, and bird song. In the evening we took a pleasant to stroll along the streets around Xuan Huong Lake amid cool air, then stopped at street food stalls to taste some local dishes, such as hot bánh mì thịt (pork bread), nem nướng (grilled pork paste with vegetables), baked sweet potato, baked corn, or a hot glass of soya milk. We tasted the flavour of life as time passed by at a slow pace.