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Da Lat railway station makes tourism
Update: Sunday, November 13, 2005
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{mosimage}Travelling on an old steam train is unique in Vietnam. Moreover, Da Lat Railway Station is considered the most beautiful in Indochina and is one of two national heritage sites in Lam Dong province.

?The station is located in the tourist city of Da Lat so attracting tourists is one of railway staff?s responsibilities,? said Ngo Minh Chau, director of the Da Lat Railway Station.

Tourists who want to call at the railway station have to buy tickets, the same as other places of interest in Da Lat City, said the Central Highlands Province of Lam Dong People?s Committee.

The number of visitors to the railway station and those who travel by the old steam engine in the city which is 1,500 metres above sea level has increased considerably in the first ten months of the year,? said Mr Chau.

As many as 40,000 tourists, including 10,000 foreigners have visited the station in the first ten months, doubling last year?s figures, according to the station?s director.

Recently, the provincial people?s committee has asked the railway industry to restore and improve the Da Lat Railway Station to turn it into an attraction for tourists when the flower festival is due to take place in mid-December.

In Vietnam?s colonial era, people who fancied a spell in the cool, jungle-clad mountains of Da Lat often used to get there by train.

It was a wonderful trip: as the carriages lumbered along their winding, climbing track, the passengers could watch the breathtaking scenery and dense forest from the comfort of their seats.

From time to time, the train would dive into a long, dark tunnel, plunging the travellers into pitch blackness, but amplifying the train?s cacophony of hissing, creaking and clanking.

The end of the journey sits Da Lat Railway Station, one of the most striking and attractive railway terminals in Vietnam.

The station was built by the French between 1932 and 1936, and followed their usual habit pf importing a European architectural style for their work.

But in building the rail route itself, they used a method not employed anywhere else in the country.

The colonialists hired Swedish engineers for the job, who were the most experienced at building zigzag railways for use on steep slopes.

The tricky rugged terrain made the work very difficult. Although track-laying began in 1903, it took a full 30 years to complete the 105km route.

The work was carried out in three stages. The 21 km Thap Cham-Tan My stretch was built between 1903 and 1913, the 41km Tan My-Krong Pha-Da Lat section during the last 14 years.

The last stretch was the hardest. It traversed the Lam Vien Plateau, 1,500m above sea level, and involved the train in an almost non-stop ascent up some very steep slopes.

Hence the need for a zigzag section, which prevents the train from sliding downwards, and also gave the journey much of its charm.

Many tunnels were also required: on the 84km stretch from Tan My to Da Lat, there are five tunnels with a total length of 1,090m.

Once the railway was finished, it was linked up to Saigon and Nha Trang stations, and Da Lat Station hosted three arrivals and departures everyday: a train to and from Thap Cham, a train to and from Saigon, and another to and from Nha Trang.

Together with the road and air access, Da Lat suddenly became a very accessible and popular spot, and was known to the French as ?the summer capital? of Indochina.

Later, many French people built European-style villas in the city, and it became known as ?Little Paris?.

But the railway station was among the first colonial-style edifices to be built in the area. It is a stunning piece of architecture, and the largely French style is complemented by architectural gestures towards the particular cottage style of the Highlands ethnic minorities.

Right in the middle if its facade, three high, pointed roofs cut a striking shape against the sky.

Under the central roof sits a large clock, a special feature that has been recently restored.

The front of the building is made even more impressive by its porte-cochere, supported by two rows of columns, twelve in each row.

In 1991, a small section of the line won a new lease on life. Everyday for the past decade, a little train has made the 7km journey from Da Lat to Trai Mat, a small town near the central city.

Two carriages, built to resemble those of an earlier era, are pulled up and down the route by a steam engine made in 1936.

This is really what makes Da Lat Railway Station unique in Vietnam. It?s not just the fresh air, the tranquillity, the elegant atmosphere and the romantic scenery. This is the only station in Vietnam which is solely for tourists.

The scenic journey takes visitors past colourful flower gardens and verdant vegetable fields. The hills that line the route are covered in cherry blossoms and fruit orchards.

At Trai Mat tourists usually visit the local pagoda, which contains a huge dragon whose scales were made with the bottoms of 4,500 beer bottles.

 

(Source: Nhan Dan)

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