I had Monday off from work so decided to do a last minute 3 day weekend to Vietnam to escape Bangkok for a bit. I flew toHo Chi Minh City (aka Saigon if you’re old school, or HCMC if you’re hip and current) Friday evening and spent 48 Hours in HCMC mostly relaxing. Sunday evening I grabbed my bag from my fancy boutique hotel, took a flight down to Da Lat, made my way to Dalat Easy Friends Hostel to spend 24 Hours in Da Lat.
Choosing an Vietnam Easy Rider Tour
With limited time, a tour seemed like a great way to see as much of this area as possible. And of course a motorcycle tour seemed like the coolest way. Now, there are at least 30 different motorcycle tour providers, many claiming to be “The Original” and things got pretty confusing pretty quickly.
But from what I’ve been able to piece together, there were 16 original members of ex-soldiers and teachers who spoke enough English to take advantage of the bourgeoning tourism industry after the war. That official group’s website is http://dalat-easyrider.com.vn. These are the guys that wear the blue & white jackets with the trademarked logo.
Many of this group have their own individual companies, including Mr. Ut at http://www.easyrider-tours.com. He met me at the Dalat Easy Friends Hostel in the morning and we shared a cup of tea and told me the story of how they got started. Then my guide and driver for the day, Mr. Duc joined us. We loaded my backpack on the bike so he could drop me off directly at the airport after our tour and off we went!
Stop 1: Old French Train Station
Our first stop was at the old train station which brought all the French ex-pats from Ho Chih Minh (fka Saigon) to the town of Da Lat which being situated at a higher elevation in the mountains had the advantage of being cooler and therefore a wonderful weekend/summer retreat from the Vietnam heat. This has also what has made Da Lat such an interesting place – the European ex-pats decided to style the town like their beloved Alps vacation towns back home including creating a lake and alpine lodges. It’s an interesting contrast against the Vietnamese jungle. I didn’t quite get pictures that did this justice, so just go see it for yourself, mmmk? Great, thanks.
Stop 2: Flower Farm
The cooler climate also makes Da Lat a huge flower growing region. Well, in fact, all manners of plants. This region grows all kinds of produce not available in the rest of the country due to the hot weather – tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, etc, etc etc, Amidst the beauty of a greenhouse full of gorgeous flowers, Mr. Duc spoke to me in hushed tones about the history of their country. How difficult life was during the communist regime and how grateful they are for democracy and building back their country to where it was before the war. About how Mr. Ut had been sent to a communist “re-education” camp (spoiler: it didn’t work) and how all of them always kept up the good fight for their beautiful home. Of course, this just made me admire them all the more and was glad I chose one of the true original groups versus one of the modern johnny-come-latelies.
Stop 3: Coffee Farm
Our next stop was at a local coffee farm where the family not only grew the coffee, but also keep some luwak (aka civets or weasels) on hand to make Kopi Luwak style coffee. If you haven’t heard of this yet, the premise is simple. The luwak eat the coffee beans, their weasely little digestive systems don’t actually break down the bean, but their digestion embues the coffee with magical coffee compounds that make it worth $30 a bag. Oh and right – how do you get it from their stomach into yours? Well their poop of course. So yeah, you’re drinking literal shit coffee and paying through the nose for it. Genius!
It’s also worth mentioning at this point that there are some mixed feeling in the animal activist community about whether this process is ethical or not. From what I can tell, the coffee eating doesn’t hurt them (they eat it in the wild which is how this was discovered). But obviously some people are just opposed to any situation where animals are kept in cages. Having been to a few of these places now I can also say the quality of these confinements vary a lot – I’ve seen luwaks with sores who were pacing and agitated – I definitely believed those animals were not being well treated. However, this family seemed to be taking good care of these fellows, so I was less disquieted by this process. Fini to my animal ethics aside.
OK, back to the fun stuff. As Mr. Duc explained how the farm self-sustains by using the coffee husks as fuel for fire, he led me to another room in the home where a fire was burning. I immediately recognized the familiar site of *drumroll* a STILL! One thing that I love about alcohol (let me count the ways) is that the process is exactly the same across ALL cultures. I find it unifying – both in the process of creating it and then of course in the process of consuming it together. It breaks down walls and boundries to help find the commonalities instead of differences. Wow. Didn’t expect me to get deep about booze right there, did ya? That makes two of us.
I got to try some of the pure spirit right off of the still. Yep. That’s rice whisky. But wait, there’s more! Let me introduce you to the concept of R??u thu?c or “medicine liquor”. This is where the steep snakes, rats, lizards, scorpions, or what ever other scary creepy, crawling thing you’ve got on hand in the liquor to make a tincture that is supposed to basically be like viagra. No seriously, this is a thing. Trust Wikipedia. And of course to everyone’s amusement. I tried some of this too.
Stop 4: Lunch
After a couple of shots of whisky, putting something non-alcoholic in my stomach seemed like a great idea so I was happy to sit down with Mr. Duc and enjoy some lunch from a nearby restaurant.
Stop 5: Elephant Waterfall
After filling our bellies, we went on a short, slippery hike to see the Elephant Waterfall (or Thac Voi) which I have to assume is named this due to its impressive size.
Stop 6: Silk Factory
I was originally a bit wary of stopping at anything that is a ‘factory’ or producer of things, because this is usually a big sales trap portion of a tour. However, this is a real working factory and they didn’t really have much for sale and were not pushy whatsoever, so I was able to enjoy learning about the process pressure-free. I also got a little silk worm snack, which again, everyone got a kick out of my willingness to try.
Stop 7: Mushroom Farm
For our final stop, we visited a Mushroom Farm and I realized I know NOTHING about how mushrooms are grown. I’m like the Jon Snow of mushroom growing. So apparently you take these baggies and fill them with a dry, porous substance such as sawdust, introduce some spores, put them in the dark, and voila – you’ve got fungi. This was totally fascinating to me. Especially the part where I realized I couldn’t picture WHAT a mushroom farm would look like before. So there you go.
From there, Mr Duc brought me to the airport where my very quick visit to Dalat and indeed the country of Vietnam was at an abrupt end. Much like this blog post.
–Source from mariethebaguettes–