Easy Rider Motorcycle Tour of Dalat

Da Lat Travel Blog

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Big breakfast at the hotel this morning; all the hotel guests sat round a table set with plates of fruit, bread rolls with peanut butter, strawberry jam and, guess what? Marmite. Thank the lord. At 9am we met our motorcycle guides outside and set off on a whirlwind tour of all the best bits of Dalat.


I haven't been on a motorcycle before, so it was a pretty exciting experience just to be on a bike. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, and cruising around the little town was immense fun. We started at a pagoda, I think it was the Linh Phuoc Pagoda, a little outside the main town. This was beautifully decorated with the 4 main animals in the Buddhist religion; the dragon, the turtle, the crane and the lion.

The size of the dragon in any pagoda is to indicate the longevity of the pagoda, the people, the culture surrounding. Since the dragon in the gardens was nothing short of enormous, we can safely assume it will be around a long time.


Next we stopped off at some farming fields to talk about local production. Until recently the government subsidy for people out of work was similar to income from working, so many people chose not to work. Only recently has this been addressed, but as a consequence Dalat people are inherently 'lazy' according to our guide Tuan. They produce strawberries (the lady picking them offered them to us to try - delicious!), tapioca, carrots, beans, cauliflower, brocolli and there are no natural predators so they need no pesticides and can keep their produce organic. They also produce flowers, some of which we saw now, the techniques of which have been learned from Holland.

The reason elephant falls is called elephant falls - this little cutie only grows here


We then took a long drive into the hills taking in some magnificent scenery; the tiered hillsides prepared for crops, with the stripes and squares of different yields. Additionally the earth here is very red; I had thought pindam was a soil peculiar to Australia but it is orange here too. We stopped to look out over Lang Bian mountain which has a legend attached to it; as usual involving a star-crossed couple. At the base of the mountain lie some ethnic minority villages which have been closed until only 10 years ago so the culture is very untouched.


Hooning towards our next stop we smelled the most beautiful smell, like frangipani or honeysuckle.

Crazy House!
Our guides kept us guessing until they got us to jump off and come see the coffee trees which we were lucky enough to catch during their brief annual flowering phase. After flowering the beans begin to grow into little red seeds inside of which are two coffee beans. These have no flavour until they are roasted. The soil is volcanic and very rich so trees are planted in 2m squared ditches and each year the ditch is spread with a plastic sheet and the seeds knocked off for collection. The trees are kept at 1,5m tall so the harvesters can collect them easily, and the trees are not used for more than 5 harvests before they are replanted. Amazingly, Vietnam is the second biggest producer of coffee in the world, after Brazil and before Columbia!


Onto the restaurant we would be eating at later, and we were shown downstairs to their mushroom basement. Here nylon bags of sawdust are wetted with a tapioca stem core, and allowed to sit for some time until mushrooms begin to grow on the tapioca. Then the bags are slashed so the mushrooms can grow out and hung in little hangers and sprayed regularly to keep moist. The mushrooms are used in local restaurants.


They also had racks and trays of silk worms. They collect the silk worms and collect vegetation of the silk worms' favourite kind to lay with them so they can eat and fatten over 21 days. When they make cocoons they are laid in racks to produce their silk and sold to the factories who throw them in hot water before the moth can make a hole in the cocoon to escape. The silk is hard to collect when dry, but in the water the ends of the threads can easily be collected and spun onto thread wheels. This we saw at the next stop, the silk factory. The silk threads are then dried and then spun into beautiful silk patterns before dying. The dying process somehow produces a beautiful two-tone effect that is not by design. Honeymoon silk is created using the silk from cocoons that have two silk worms inside them. The silk is coarser at first, then heavier later, though still soft. The larvae found in the remaining water-logged cocoons are sold to restaurants for food. The lucky escapee silk worms can mate, though they will never fly because they are too fat, especially the females which are bigger by nature. The silk at the factory was beautiful and cheap, so Zoe and I bought a few presents for ourselves and for family...


We drove onto Elephant Falls, a large and beautiful waterfall not mentioned in many of the guide books. The downside was the litter, but on the plus side we could walk down very close to the waterfall - certainly enough to get soaked. To be fair, this involved some climbing and grunting up and around many rocks with precarious steps cut into them, or just across pointy rocks with no grip. Better still the wet rocks at the bottom. A health & safety officer's dream. From a rock in the middle of the river at the base of the falls, our guide asked us to wait for him there. We watched him disappear and reappear amongst the mossy rocks close to the falls till he picked a flower and brought it back to us. We were deeply touched by his gesture, until of course he explained why, and then we were enchanted. The tiny pink orchid-like flower near the falls grows nowhere else, and when you turn it upside down it looks like the tiny head with ears and trunk of an elephant...


Back to our mushroom restaurant for lunch, and just in time as the heavens opened. We sat on the wooden balcony overlooking the fish pond, the coffee trees, and the mountainous land and plates and plates just started arriving! Steaming rice with chicken, pork with sesame, egg fritatta, mushrooms, garlic spinach, steamed fish, green beans, soup, pork with cauliflower and brocolli, lamb seasoning with salt and pepper, fish sauce and soy sauce. It was a feast! And I did well to put away what I did. Zoe eats 'little 'n' often, so I often end up eating what she doesn't. As she fielded persistant attempts to get her to eat more, her assertions that I'm the human dustbin backfired on me when they turned the persistant demands onto me instead. So I was still eating long after everyone else finished as they continued to pile my plate high! Can't say I minded very much though. To plagiarise the Lonely Planet, Vietnam is a country of skinny people obssessed by food. And what's more it's healthy and tasty.


A quick stop in someone's garden to see passionfruit growing after our delicious dessert and a quick stop at another flower greenhouse. Tuan pointed out those flowers new to his nation and explained that the flower techniques they have learned from Holland since the country opened it's doors provide more income than the harvests because they have learned to make greenhouses from bamboo and keep them warm with light bulb lighting, so flowers can grow all year round. Daisies, roses and carnations are a main export, plus recently, we think, crysanths.


Final stop in Dalat at the Hang Nga Guest House & Art Gallery (or better known as Crazy House). As we understand it, the second president of Vietnam had a daughter, and she studied architecture in Moscow. Somehow these details have

coincided to produce this crazy house/hotel. Think Gaudi. Bizarre tunnels and odd staircases that wind inside and out over bridges and under others with little nooks concealing rooms known as the kangaroo room, the ant room, the tiger room, the termite room etc. Some are beautiful, some are creepy, some are downright weird. The whole house is a fun multi-level, multi-dimensional exploration, and with beautiful gardens of toadstools and fish ponds, giant spiders webs, it makes a truly magical visit.


Finally we zoomed home in the end-of-day traffic which made Saigon look like chaos but was still sufficiently hair-raising to raise the blood pressure a notch or two. Our guides hoped to convince us to agree to a 3 day tour of the central highlands with them before heading off to Hoi An, and though we desperately racked our brains, consulted maps and argued over time, money, border crossings, etc, we just couldn't make it fit so regretfully we had to turn them down. I strongly urge anyone considering Vietnam however to make time for them, as we had a wonderful day which I feel sure will be a strong highlight.


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The reason elephant falls is calle…
The reason elephant falls is call…
Crazy House!
Crazy House!
Da Lat
photo by: Biedjee