Wednesday, 20 April 2011

An Easy Ride

After a week in the beautiful Mui Ne I tore myself from the beach and headed north to continue my travels. My next stop (and current location) was Da Lat, a small town in the misty mountains of south Vietnam. Wrenching myself from the beach has turned out to be a brilliant decision.

Da Lat is unlike any other town I've visited in Vietnam. It is much cooler due to the elevation and the French influence on the town is strikingly apparent. The craziness I've come to expect from Vietnamese towns and cities isn't missing, but is overshadowed by the almost European feel to the town. Rice paddies have been replaced by strawberry fields and flower farms. You could almost be fooled into thinking this is not Vietnam, until you get on a bike.

On the bus to Da Lat I met an Englishman by the name of Gad who has two weeks left in the country and is heading north to Hanoi. Gad knew a couple of guys who are also heading to Hanoi, but have hired bikes for the journey. Gad had made plans to meet them in Da Lat when he arrived and so it was that I met Xan and Joe. We met in a guesthouse called Peace Cafe and immediately got chatting with some of the famous Easy Riders. The Easy Riders could be described as Vietnam's very own Hell's Angels, minus all the leather and tassles. The Easy Rider we chatted, Dunhill, to was such an incredible character and within seconds of meeting Gad had (not very subtly) hinted that he should marry his daughter. He was such a likeable guy, full of smiles and laughs, and soon we'd agreed to do a tour of Da Lat the following day.

A snapshot of the market from an overpass. Still in Vietnam!
Chuffed with our deal, we headed to the market to see what was on offer. The market was a reminder that we certainly are still in Vietnam, but the fresh produce on offer was different to other markets I've visted. After cruising though the market and trying some locally grown strawberries we went to find a place to eat. My first true disappointment followed. The meals on the menu were a bit more pricey than usual so I went for a simple rice dish with chicken and shrimp. What arrived was the smallest plate of rice I've ever seen with half a chicken's left wing shaved over the top and shrimps which were small enough to be partially invisible. The food tasted good, but the quantity was lacking. Sadly, the meal wasn't my disappointment. When we got around to paying Gad mistook a 500000 dong note for a 5000 dong note. This is an easy mistake to make as they are both blue. The difference is that the 5000d note has a white trim on the edges. I had, by chance, been watching the transaction take place as Gad payed for his meal and noticed Gad's mistake. The man who had served us our food also noticed Gad's mistake and quickly pocketed the 500000d note. I saw this and immediately told him to stop and give back the money he'd just tried to steal. He was taken aback at being caught and quickly left the table. The whole experience put a bit of a dampener on the day's proceedings but that was quickly sorted out with a game of pool at the local pool bar.

Buddha watching over the visitors to the pagoda.
The disappointment of yesterday was washed away by the brilliance of today. We met the Easy Riders, Dunhill and Tim, at 8h30 this morning and headed off to our first stop at a nearby pagoda. At the pagoda Dunhill explained how Vietnamese people place the significance of good deeds and good karma over money (makes one wonder about the guy serving us.) He was full of anecdotes and explained how he'd taken a European couple on a tour and ended up paying for their meals, but saying he was happy to do so as it was a good deed. At the end of the trip, the couple tipped him generously and sponsored his daughter's university education in London. It was at this point that he gave Gad his daughter's address in London, which made us all piss ourselves laughing.

A sad blemish on the history of this fine country
The next stop on our tour was at an old war remnant, a house in which a family had hidden northern soldiers from the Americans. The house had been bombed and all inhabitants were killed. Bullet holes are spread all over the remnants of the house and some of the holes still have bullets in them. It was a chilling reminder of the history of this beautiful country and the effect of the war was brought home when Dunhill showed us where a bullet had hit him in the stomach.

From the war remnant we drove on possibly the most amazing road in the country. It was a ribbon of perfection, winding it's way down the side of a mountain. Driving on it was a good enough experience, but we were also treated to one of the most spectacular vistas on the way down. It is on roads like this that a motorbike truly comes alive. Two wheels allow you to flow down the side of the mountain with such ease and precision and the Easy Riders are masters of their craft, making the experience so much more enjoyable. The mountain pass took us out of Da Lat and into a nearby village where we stopped to see the coffee beans being grown and the process of silk making from silk worm to being woven into scarves and clothes.

The view on the way down
A wall of water. Elephant Falls.
Directly after the silk factory we came to Elephant Falls, one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the region. Thousands of litres of water gush over the falls every second, falling onto large rocks and generating a fine mist. We walked down to the base of the waterfall and sat there, enjoying the cooling effect of the mist. The waterfall is even more spectacular from its base and the sheer quantity of water is mindboggling.
Today's blog is going to be a long one, so if you've got this far I urge to bear with me until the end, I haven't even got to lunch yet.

Bet that last line got you nervous. How much longer is this bastard going to write for?

Not much longer. I've got to lunch. We found a little place alongside a dam and sat down to enjoy some much-needed lunch. Dunhill arranged for a selection of everything to be brought to the table for us to sample and eat. A vast amount of food was placed on the table and we tucked in ravenously. Lunch was one of the highlights of the day because we got to share a meal with the Easy Riders and chat and joke as friends. Dunhill kept adding food to our plates, saying 'Make yourself at home' every time he did so. The setting was perfect and the food was delicious. At the end of the meal there was still some food left uneaten, despite the best efforts of six hungry men to finish it. The English lads and I each payed $4 for the meal, which covered us and the Easy Riders. I still find it amazing that R100 can feed 6 people in this country and food will be left over.

Lunch was followed by a trip to a local rice whisky producer. Petrol is less brutal than Vietnamese rice whisky! We each had a shot of the potent stuff which Tim informed us is 70% alcohol. Unfortunately production was finished for the day so we weren't able to see it being made, but we certainly experienced the final product!

By now clouds were rolling over and it looked ready to rain so we made our way back to Da Lat for our last stop of the day, Crazy House. On the way it started drizzling so we broke out the ponchos at which point the rain stopped. Crazy House is a good name for what was on show. It's not so much a house as someone's acid trip converted into a concrete structure. Words can't really describe Crazy House so I'll show you some pictures instead.

It's been a long post, thanks for your commitment to my blog. If you got this far you deserve a medal. I'm not going to give you a medal, but I think you deserve it.

Dong jokes are hitting an all-time low

P.S. If I've made spelling mistakes in my blog post or any previous blog post it's probably because all computers are set up in Vietnamese so every word I write is underlined in red. I gave up on checking thoroughly as it would take too long.

1 comment:

  1. I see a rapid conversion to biker in progress! Perhaps even aspirations of sitting astride a Harley trying desperately not to look too cool so as not to be associated with the yuppies who rumble with bombast from one hip happening to the next in this neck of the woods. If that be so you will have to seek advice from your older bro about how to accumulate (and hold onto) capital.
    Another fabulous blog! I am a true fan. Keep riding easy - can't wait for the next installment long or not. BTW - what IS the story of the Crazy House?