Story: Nguyet Pham
Photos: Leu Trung Hieu

Dalat is associated with lost love and nostalgia. It’s a land for dreamy youngsters, a place as beautiful and fragile as strands of silk – or threads of memories.

Jacaranda blossoms beside Xuan Hương Lake

When I think of Dalat I recall a sad melody and a wild kind of love. I came to know Dalat through a local “girl”, who’s now in her sixties. When the apricot blossoms bloomed, she’d tell stories of her high school years. After school, young ladies in white áo dài and sky blue cardigans, bearing school bags, would skip to green fields and lie down to gaze up at bright apricot blossoms glowing on thin branches. As they chatted happily, the earthy scent of fresh young grass hung in the air.

Do today’s young school girls still hang out beneath the apricot trees around Xuan Huong Lake, or along Tran Hung Dao Street, near Cadasa’s vintage villa complex, at the end of the year when the flowers flutter in the wind? One thing’s sure: beds of tempting green grass still lie beneath pink canopies, waiting in silence, as pristine as they were half a century ago.

A peaceful window

Being a dreamer, I always look for this city’s soul, its very essence, hidden in the smallest details. Memories of this mountain town reveal themselves gradually, in such familiar ways. There’s the misty rain, cold enough to make locals hunch over and hide their hands in their      pockets. In the final months of the year, after a period of heavy rain comes a time of drizzle. This drizzle doesn’t last all day. No one is bothered by it, as the drops are fine as mist. The drizzle comes and goes, in the mornings or late evenings. It casts a gloomy haze over the lake’s surface, clouding your heart as you’re reminded of a distant past, walking beside someone once-dear on the winding slopes leading to the Golden Valley. The laughter of happiness, love, and carefree youth seemed to echo, as the girl from yesterday looked up to discover this magical scene: tall pines in the drizzle look like brightly-lit green candles.

Dalat seems to preserve precious memories. There’s always one wanderer who doesn’t seek joy in a bustling crowd. Once upon a time, there was a girl who lived in the attic of a quiet villa at the end of an alleyway, in a neighborhood behind Dalat University. Looking down at the spacious courtyard and the vivid red pomegranate flowers would remind her of her lively high school years. In the romantic twilight, as the ducks gently flapped their wings and horses whinnied across the grassy hills, she sat quietly at a wooden bench overlooking the lake, contemplating a sky filled with memories.

Apricot blossoms bloom in January

It was a long-ago love story, when the young couple would often drive around Xuan Huong Lake, across Lam Vien Square to the Dalat Palace Hotel, then turn to St. Nicholas Cathedral. One afternoon during mass, as they passed through the Catholic neighborhood, the familiar high notes of the church bells sounded strange and lonely. Perhaps it was due to the cold rain! These two non-believers suddenly wished to attend mass and blend into the sacred atmosphere of Jesus’ flock. The girl never forgot the church bells in the cold air or the overwhelming feeling inside the cathedral.

While Dalat has changed, with new buildings, at year’s end, the pink apricot blossoms, the gentle drizzle, and the unforgettable church bells still evoke such peaceful memories.