18 june 2011

18th June 2011

Su and Mo (sumo;))

Su & Mo were our motorcycle guides in Dalat.

Dragon pagoda – Bombed house – up hill – walk – flower farm – coffee beans – Elephant water fall and temple – lunch – silk – rice whiskey – native village – crazy house.
Plan bus – no bus – late bus – dinner – hair!

Well, this is another day in Sunny Dalat.  Its 1500m above sea level and constantly covered in clouds.  Occasionally these drop rain.  Like last night.  It poured.  The noise was so loud that it drowned out the noise of the kids running up and down the stairs screaming.  There is such a thing as insulation, but I don’t think they knew what it was when they built this building.  The noise filtering in from outside was a lot as well.  There are the scooters going past beeping at everything that moves, the cars beeping at the scooters for being in the way, and the sounds of people partying into the night.  It seems like no-one sleeps here.  Even at the hotels, the people are up early, and still there late at night.  I am sure in Saigon the concierge slept in his chair.

Onto today.  At least it wasn’t raining in the morning.  It was gray and overcast.  We were having second thoughts about our trip.  Having a morning coffee from the manager here (Vietnam does do good coffee), Su and Mo turned up.  Mo is a nice quiet older bloke that doesn’t seem to speak much, in contrast to Su’s over the top personality.  We asked about the chance of rain, but this tour was going to happen come rain, hail or shine.  We found out from Mo later that the only thing that would have stopped it was snow.  It is always fairly warm in Viet Nam, so no one has fireplaces or heaters.  If it had snowed here, it meant that it was so cold he would have frozen to death overnight.

Anna started off with Su, racing into the distance, before I got my helmet on.  The dreads got in the way, and had to make the strap wider.  So with that sorted, off I went with Mo.  He is a calm relaxed driver, that isn’t worried about anything.  Happy to take his time, and it was fairly comfortable.  Our first stop was the Dragon Pagoda.

The Dragon Pagoda is a Buddhist temple, about 40% of Vietnamese people are Buddhist, and 30% Catholic, 10% Muslim 10% all seeing eye people and the last 10% ethnic minorities.  Apparently this is quite a famous one.  It does seem like the Vietnamese like to turn their temples (and churches for that matter) into theme parks.  There was a massive dragon taking up one side of the entrance area and 2 golden dragons flanking the main stairs up to the temple itself.  Then there were all these kitschy statues around the place.  Monkey and crew (from the tv show), elephants, and all sorts of things.  Speaking of this.  On the drive to here, we passed a lot of churches.  Most of these had weird statues out front as well, everything from camels to giraffes, big fish and deer, and one even had mushrooms.  We thought they had to be magic ones.

After a quick walk around the temple, and through the tourists, we were off again.  This time to an old dilapidated ruin.  This was to talk about the effect of the war.  Apparently this was an old french house in the V.C. part of the neighborhood.  There was a U.S. air base on the hill opposite, and little else in the entire area.  You could see the bullet holes in the building from the war.  We had a chat here about what we do, and what it was like for him to be around 10 during the war.  He lost a brother to a land mine, and didn’t really talk about his parents.  Although his dad was a supporter of the French and then the Americans.

View of Dalat Farming into the hillsides

A lovely drive in the countryside.  It was quite a view.  There are large hills banked up against each other with terraces cut into them.  These aren’t that small, as each one is the size of a small field.  Each one has a different crop on it.  Some were covered by greenhouses but most weren’t.  Mo said that they had all been hand carved from the hills.  He didn’t mention what happened to the earth, but I assume that went to making bricks for all the houses popping up everywhere.  A bit further on, we were dropped off for a walk, there were two paths, one down & up the hills, and across some buildings, and another along the road.  We took the latter, and were supposed to take the former.  As it was, we had a good look at a bit of the countryside.  There were rows of medium sized shrubs with small green berries clumped all along the branches.  I assumed they were coffee, but wasnt sure.  Back at the bikes we moved on.  At the moment, it wasnt looking like the best tour.  However we were taken to a flower farm, this was where Mo started getting into it.  It turns out that his english was fairly good.  He was also interested, so I think he comes from a farming background.  We were told all the varieties, and how the farming was done under the communists (lazy, and did nothing.  This is a bit because there is no responsibility.) and that in the 90’s those that could still produce their original deeds got the land back.  He’s very pro private ownership.  Each farm is at most two acres.  This is about right according to him, as it is all family run, with little or no machinery, so any bigger than that is too much work.  However there are companies out there with proper machines that are starting to get a few hectares of land.  He didn’t seem sure if he liked this or not.  He was also against chemicals, but said that although people were starting on organic growing they weren’t too sure how to do it?  Although they do do crop rotation and the like to cut down on the bugs and things.

He also talked about the problems with education in the smaller cities.  Apparently higher education is standard if you can afford it, but if you have a degree from Dalat, it wont help you get a job in Saigon or Hanoi unless you bribe people to employ you.  However he likes the foreign companies, as they will hire you based on your marks and work.  This is causing a problem though as a lot of people are moving to the cities like everywhere else, and there will soon be a shortage of people to work the land.

It started raining so we pulled over to put on wet weather gear.  This was impressive, and Annerieke looked like a little blue mushroom afterwards.I looked like a gnome..

We didn’t let that slow us down though, and went off to a coffee plantation.  I was right before, they were coffee plants.  Vietnam has 4 types of coffee growing here.  Mocha, Arabica, Robusta and cherry.  There were no cherry plants here, as they grew upwards of 5 metres, but there was the other three.  The sizes and leaves were different.  He said that everything had to be picked by hand.  It was then usually dried and kept for around three months for the prices to rise again before it was sold.

Our next stop on the tour was elephant water falls.  these falls were quite pretty.  It had been helped by the rain last night.  The water was quite clean, but very brown.  All the top soil was being washed down the river.  At the top of the falls, we had to pay the entrance fee, and then we could walk around the falls and up to the Buddhist temple on the hill above it.  You couldnt see that much from the top, as it dropped down into a fine mist, and was too deep to see from the barrier.  Not that that was hard, as you could only see about a meter down.  We walked around and down a very dodgy path.  The ironwork of the bridges was rusting apart and the tiny steps carved into the rock were covered with mud and water.  After scrambling over tree roots, and between split rocks, passing through streams, we ended up at a viewing rock almost at the base of the falls.  It was a lot more impressive from here, although there was a lot of spray.  Mo pointed out there were a few other paths here, and we took the one where a tree had split the rock in two, and the roots were almost completely covering the space.  This led to the back of the falls,  The water was hitting the rocks in front, and curving back in under itself.  It was an impressive view, but the three of us got soaked in seconds.
A quick wander up around the temple,which had the biggest, happiest, fattest Buddha ever and the adjoining silk weaving place.  They had some nice silk, at really good prices, but what would we do with it?
Across the road, it was lunch time.  This is the stop where all the easy riders eat.  The must get a good discount, as our meal was massive, and we couldnt finish it all.  Only 100k for the four of us.

Happiest Buddha Ever!

Back onto the bikes, already starting to get a bit sore, we drove to a silk factory.  The worms are grown elsewhere, but they get the silk cocoons, boil them, and de-thread them to make the strands of silk.  They also dyed and wove the silk using old punch card machines.  I swear they were original spinning jennies.  The first layer of the cocoon isn’t silk but can be used for pillow stuffing, and the boiled larvae is saved and sold as a delicacy.  The heating to boil the water is the bean casing of the coffee, and the ash is sold back to the farmers to use as fertilizer.

Time to get a drink, and the best place to do that is the manufacturer.  A rice distillery was nearby, and we popped in with Mo to learn how to make “happy water”.  Basically, boil rice, dry it.  Add yeast.  Leave it for a week, give or take, add water and boil.  There is no other quality control, but they do use an alcohol measurer, so the stuff they sell is about 40%.  However they were at the start of a new batch, and it was producing around 70%.  After a quick sample, straight from the still, we were told that again they recycle the coffee bean husk for the fire, and the fermented rice is given to the pigs after it is boiled.  Happy pigs.
We had to pick some up, so 600ml of happy water later (and a beautiful decorated jug of matured rice whiskey) we were again on our way.  An ethnic minority village was on the schedule.  This turned out to be a few wooden houses on a back street, with kids, dogs, and chickens running about.  Nothing like ours.  These guys kept the place clean, and were growing veggies, and coffee sprouts.  You honestly couldnt tell, as they even had satellite tv.  Although Su was proud of this, as it shows how far they have come.  The whole thing was a bit condescending. I can understand why.  It would be the same for us giving a tour of mimili.

The last stop for the day was the Crazy House.  A salvador Dali’ish house that is only half finished.  It has staircases going everywhere, weird rooms, and alcoves, and generally is like a crazy house in a circus.  You can rent a room there for US$200 and stay with the evil kangaroo, or with ants all through your room.  Glad i didn’t waste that much on an entrance fee.  Although for some reason it is meant to be popular with honeymooners.

That was the end of the tour.  Back at the hotel we continued our lunch time conversation on why we wouldnt take an extended tour.  Basically the cost.  It has been US$25 each for the day.  It was reasonable, and it was a fun day, but to do the extended tour was going to be US$70.  To sit on a bike all day?  We did like the guys, Mo was brilliant when he opened up, but I think 4 days of being with Su on a bike would be a bit much for us.  However if you are in town,do the day tour, and make up your minds.  I can see the appeal.

It was late afternoon by this stage, and we had to plan what we were going to do.  I managed to find a map (in Vietnamese) of Dalat, and we could hire a bike, but then we started counting days, and realized we were already short off time.  Less than a week into it, and we still had a few thousand KM’s to go.  Just to get to Hue and back.  This meant no biking by ourselves tomorrow, but a bloody long bus ride to Na Trangh, and on to Hoi An.
Back at the Singh Cafe, we found out that the first section of the trip was fully booked, but we could get a rival company for three times the price.  Were not happy.  Then there was the credit card fee, so being stingy, I dragged Anna all over the dark streets to find an ATM.  That was not fun.  However we booked our tickets, resumed a smile on our faces and went out to dinner.

View from the Crazy House in Dalat

Dinner was a fun affair, as my dreads were the talking point of the restaurant.  At first it was the guys behind me,but when I let them touch it,I had every ones attention.  It was a bit of fun, but I did have people staring the entire time.  The reactions varied from Go, Yeah! to disbelief.  Most people here are very conformist, but it was mainly positive.
I have been walking around mainly oblivious to peoples reactions, but Anna says it is really common to see someones head turn and follow me with mouth open as I walk past.  I have noticed it more here, as it is not quite so touristy than in Ho Chi Minh.

That about sums up the day.  Hope you all liked reading about it.

AA

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