Lanterns and Heights

– by ChiChai@Empire –

After a full day of exploring Da Nang’s marble abundance, bright colors illuminated our night as Christopher and I strolled through Hội An, a city dubbed as “One of the Most Romantic Cities in the World” by Indian Times.

Local merchants, restaurants, and centuries-old buildings enveloped us as lanterns glowingly weaved through it all. Hội An– meaning peaceful meeting place— was a trading port from the 15th to 19th century. Countries such as Japan, China, India, and Portugal used this peaceful meeting place for trading. Declared by UNESA a World Heritage Site, much of Hội An’s history is preserved in its buildings.

I suppose the right amount of lanterns and nostalgia is the perfect mix to make a top romantic city. During our visit, we saw at least three couples taking their engagement photos among the decorated lights. I kept joking to Christopher we should have an impromptu photo-shoot. He said no lol (he’s very determined to have one of our fav photographers do our engagement shoot.) But, in all seriousness, who can blame all the couples being magnetized to Hội An? It’s charm is undeniable.

As for our second day in central Vietnam, we travelled to even higher heights in Da Nang than the first. We spent the day escalating up Ba Na Hills Mountain Resort.

The gondola ride(s) up Ba Na Hills is worth the visit alone. The gondola takes you above the forestry of Trường Sơn Mountains and 1487 meters(~5k feet) above sea level. With 200 cable cars and three different routes, approximately 1.5 million people ride the gondolas a year since Ba Na Hills opening in 2013. One of the routes, Toc Tien – L’Indochine, holds the record of “world’s longest cable car ride.” 

The route we initially took dropped us of at Le Jardin D’amour (The Garden of Love.) But, as if we were not high enough, we took a train a bit further up the mountain. Although we weren’t at the highest peek yet, our view above the clouds made me feel as though we already reached the heavens.

During French colonization (~late 1800’s to 1954), French colonists used Ba Na Hills for their vacation homes. The Mountain Resort used its colonial past as its aesthetic inspiration.

As someone who’s studied the detrimental effects colonialism has on post-colonized people, I wasn’t so sure how to feel while visiting the actual destinations of the gondola. I couldn’t help but wonder, is the French-inspiration due to remnants of colonial mentality in which we post-colonized people were usually taught Westernization = civilization and white is right?  But, upon seeing how beautiful the gardens were and all of those enjoying it, I decided to perceive Ba Na Hills Mountain Resort as Vietnam taking ownership of their colonial history rather than being defeated by it. Besides, there was more cultural syncretism than French influence (i.e. the 27m tall Buddha meditating in Le Jardin D’amour.) Plus, as I mentioned earlier, it felt as though we reached the heavens.

Christopher enjoyed this particular site because he was able to use his drone to capture it all.  No one even noticed the drone’s launch or landing (it is very easy to be succumbed by the garden and mountain’s beauty.)

photo by Chris@Empire

After touring the garden, we then took another gondola ride to reach another part of the resort. My thoughts on colonial inspiration were about to be challenged once more.

We discovered that some of the original French colonial homes remained and were restored for the resort. The resort then built around these homes and created an entire French-like village. The similarities between the resort and France was uncanny– I felt like I was sent back to 2011 when I studied abroad in Paris. The cathedral and its gargoyles, the brick roads, the narrow buildings and windows… I couldn’t believe I was still in Vietnam.

Again, I tried to calm my critiquing-colonialism mind. “They’re taking ownership of their history. It is okay. It’s beautiful here!” Then came the parade of princes and princesses… who were white. *insert essay on why representation and inclusivity matters and how the skin-color hierarchy damages the mental health of people of color* Yea, I’m not going to discuss why this resort is problematic for the self-esteem of post-colonized people.  I’ll just leave it at… this resort was beautiful.

Would I recommend to visit Ba Na Hills Mountain Resort? Definitely. The gondola rides– like I said before– is worth it alone.  But, please be mindful of its historical influence.

by Christopher Nguyen

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