Chugging down history lane

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A relic from the past offers a new way to sightsee the resort town of Da Lat.

“It’s a pity that it is very short. I just want to travel like this from morning till evening!”

American tourist Kim Fieldhouse echoes the sentiments of many visitors who have chosen to tour through Da Lat on a new, old train.

“I’ve traveled to different places but I’ve never traveled by train on a plateau like this before.”

This new experience is now possible after four old carriages were restored, hatched to an old locomotive and put into operation a few weeks ago to replace the modern train on a seven-km stretch from Da Lat to Trai Mat.

The four carriages were fixed by experts from Ho Chi Minh City to look exactly the same as those used on the Da Lat-Phan Rang line in the 1930s.

The engineers even fixed the words “Da Lat Plateau Railroad” on the old carriages.

The restoration of the old train has drawn great interest from local and foreign tour operators because it could give tourists a chance to explore interesting things about the poetic town on the Lang Biang Plateau.

Second in the world

Built in the 1920s, the 84 km Da Lat-Phan Rang railway was the only one in Vietnam and second in the world that had a cogwheel line.

The cogwheel part was 34 km long, running through four tunnels with a total length of almost 1,000 meters, taking trains from the Krongpha Pass up the Ngoan Muc (Bellevue) Pass to Da Lat.

The Krongpha â€" Ngoan Muc section was completed in 1928, the Ngoan Muc â€" Dran section in 1929, the Dran â€" Tram Hanh section in 1930 and the completed line reaching Da Lat and was put in use in 1932.

It was abandoned during the prolonged wars against the French and the Americans. Even after southern Vietnam was liberated in 1975, no attempt was made to revive the line. It was consigned to memories of the past.

However, in the 1990s, concerned agencies decided to restore seven kilometers of the railway from Da Lat to Trai Mat for tourism purposes.

Now the train offers a vantage point for visitors to enjoy the wonderful scenery on either side of the railroad, like the Than Tho Lake (Lake of Sighs) or farms that grow carrots, potatoes, cabbages and many other vegetables.

They can also see enclosed buildings where flowers and vegetables are grown using modern cultivation methods as well as terraced farms where avocadoes, artichokes, peaches and strawberries are grown.

In the distance, the pine tree forests that the city is famous for, and the roads winding round hills highlight the charms the renowned hill side resort.

Architectural masterpiece

Construction of the famous Da Lat Railway Station started in 1935 and was completed three years later. It was designed by French architect Reveron and developed by his compatriot Moncet who directly supervised construction of the structure.

It was a technological and aesthetic wonder when completed. Its architectural design was very unique in the country then and now, and it became known as the most beautiful railway station in Indochina and France.

One of the most impressive features of the station is its tiled roof. There are three sets of tiled roofs running parallel to each other and joining with the main set of roofs of the building.

The departure lounge is lit by the natural light coming in through windows at the feet of the roofs. The station was recognized as a national historical and cultural relic in 2001, and authorities have preserved it with care as a major tourist attraction.

Reported by Nhat Hung

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