Dalat to Lak Lake

Lak Lake Travel Blog

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So begins our roadtrip through the Central Highlands, with the famous Easy Riders of Dalat. Although Dalat itself was somewhat disappointing, things got interesting fast when we hit the road this morning. After a brief stop at a pretty but entirely touristy artificial lake, we proceeded north into the Central Highlands proper. We stopped at a couple minority villages – one was the fairly well known Chicken Village, inhabited by the Koho people, who all know very good English, and are damned good weavers. I bought a really pretty wallet. The other one was a smaller, poorer Jarai village, where they seemed genuinely surprised to see us, and very shy compared to most of the inhabitants of Vietnam.

When talking about Vietnam, the expression “and yet” comes up a lot. No place is this more frequent and extreme than in the Highlands. The Highlands were bombed, burnt and sprayed with napalm and defoliants until they were a smoking, lifeless wasteland. After the war, contrary to cleaning things up, the government started a huge agricultural program. The traditional slash and burn farming techniques of the local minorities do not help in the slightest. Your average hill in the Highlands has an appearance vaguely resembling the back of a diseased rat. And yet, there is incredible beauty. Huge swaths of jungle. Quaint, rolling slopes covered in coffee trees. Epic vistas that span significant portions of the nation itself. Blue, jewel-like lakes. Shimmering, bright-green rice fields.

The government has been similarly harsh on the local minorities, pushing them this way and that to make room for lowland Vietnamese farmers. There are strict policies of “Vietnamisation” in places, and parts of the Highlands are closed off to foreign travelers, due to unrest with the natives. And yet, there is remarkable ethnic diversity. Villages where the locals don't dress up and put on song and dance routines for the visiting tourists. Where they have combined what is old and traditional with what is modern and practical.

The Easy Riders are not just “obligatory”, they're worth coming to Vietnam for. Anyone who makes it to this part of the world would be very well advised to splurge on a tour with them for at least two days – if you splurge on any one tour in your life, make it this one. They are friendly, fun and genuine. They are trustworthy and reasonable. And, they know every backroad, every town and all the best restaurants, hotels, coffee shops and sites from Hanoi to Saigon and beyond. They have a talent for magically producing these gigantic, well-prepared feasts which we are never able to finish, and which run us about 2 USD per person, maximum. They'll stop whenever we wanna get off the bikes and walk a little or take pictures, and they'll meet us further down the road. They'll change plans on a moment's notice if we have something we wanna do more than what they have on their list – but we have no complaints.

Their routine is completely anti-tourist – among the more interesting things we've seen have been a small roadside cinnamon plantation, and a basement rice wine homebrew operation. This is to say nothing of the big, epic and more conventional tourist sites.

Lak Lake, where we now rest, is something of a rarity – an interesting resort town. We took a walk before dinner, and watched the sunset. The countryside is beautiful, and has a remarkable, idyllic and entirely unique ambiance to it. There were kids playing in the rice fields, and music drifting over the town from the radio-fed loudspeakers. Tomorrow we're going to be going on a boatride – they have elephants, but Eric doesn't want to ride an elephant, and I want to wait until I get to Laos or Thailand, where elephant rides are cheaper. So, we're gonna try and go out on the lake in a boat.

What an amazing country.

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Lak Lake
photo by: schner