Yersin's mountain

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  The wooden house at the top is a replica of the one built by Dr Alexandre Yersin who stayed there for many years doing medical research. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Hon Ba Mountain soars 1,578 meters above the coastal plains of Khanh Hoa Province, and is a cool 18 degrees Celsius even in the middle of summer.

But most people do not think it is worth a visit. "What is there to see?" is the usual question.

Unlike nearby Nha Trang, the mountain has little by way of entertainment, and even the landscape is not especially remarkable.

But this was the place Alexandre Yersin, the Swiss-born French bacteriologist and doctor, decided to climb 90 years ago and stay to do his pharmaceutical research.

The devoted doctor is known worldwide for co-discovering the bacillus, a genus of bacteria causing a zoonotic dissease that can kill most infected humans within days. In Vietnam, he is remembered for his efforts to grow the cinchona tree and produce quinine, the first known effective remedy for malaria, a scourge of Vietnam and Southeast Asia.

Yersin created a path to the top of the mountain in 1915 after discovering that Hon Ba had similar climate and soil to Da Lat, which were conducive to growing cinchona, from whose bark quinine is made.

After he died in Nha Trang in 1943, Khanh Hoa authorities forgot about the path for 58 years. But in 2001 they spent VND82 billion (US$3.93 million) to turn the path to the top from Suoi Cat Commune in Cam Lam District into a 37-kilometer concrete road around Da Giang Stream.

A Tuoi Tre report said there is no transport service to the top, so visitors have to make their own way. It takes an hour by motorbike or car.


A herbal garden has been created near the house to commemorate Yersin's work. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Yersin's house, actually a close copy of the original built by the good doctor, is made of dark wood.

Vietnamese architect Tran Thien Hoang drew the original house from photos at the Pasteur Institute's museum in Paris. Yersin had used normal wood, but the new house used sao (Hopea), a kind of fine timber, according to the report.

Near the two-story house is a set of table and chairs carved in rock for visitors to sit.

It is furnished as if the house is still occupied and there is an altar where visitors can burn incense sticks to pay their respects to Yersin.

Yersin's tomb lies near Suoi Dau Stream along National Highway 1A, around a kilometer from the foot of the mountain. The epitaph on his tombstone describes him as a "Benefactor and humanist, venerated by the Vietnamese people."

The rock stairs and rotten ends of the original house's wooden pillars remain nearby.

HOW TO GET THERE

Hon Ba is 57 kilometers from Nha Trang and reachable by car and motorbike.

From Nha Trang, travel south along National Highway 1A for 20 kilometers to Suoi Dau Stream, turn right into Suoi Dau Bridge, and continue along the asphalt road.

Visitors have to travel by themselves or rent vehicles from hotels in Nha Trang. Warm clothes and raincoats are recommended.

Yersin had many large jars and concrete trays to cultivate seedlings. They remain in the house, scattered around like pieces of an installation work.

The pond Yersin built in front of the house to harvest rainwater also remains.

A garden has been created next to the house with some common herbs as a memorial to his legacy.

Pine trees and various flowering plants have also been planted next to two flowering trees planted by the doctor himself in 1915.

Some tourism services and facilities have been developed at the top in recent years.

There is a small restaurant built of wood that mainly serves drinks and simple dishes like noodles and stir-fries.

Visitors who want to sleep amid the sounds of wild animals can do so by paying VND500,000 ($24) per night to stay in the six bungalows which are lit up at night by gas mantles.

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