February 25, 2012

Vietnam - Dalat to Mui Ne

After spending the day with the Easy Riders around Dalat, we elected to stay in a hotel and have our guides drive us from Dalat to Mui Ne the next day. Although a sleeper bus was available, another late night bus speeding down the highway system truly did not interest us. The intimate experience through the mountain roads with local guides stopping at beautiful locations was much more appealing.

One of the first stops was to an ethnic minority village, famous for this giant statue. The story is that a long time ago a girl and boy were in love, but his parents wanted her to prove how capable a wife she would be by going into the forest and finding a chicken with perfect feet. In the end, she is unable to produce the chicken and they cannot be together.

This is a school funded by the government. I saw many more children outside than inside the school house, so I suspect it isn't mandatory.

Rice paddies

Mushroom farms

This bridge was destroyed by American troops during the war to stop supplies from getting to the north. Since then, a new one has been built next to it.

This is a brick factory. At the moment, the production was at a stand still, because the coffee bean prices had gotten very high and the employees were helping their families and neighbors finish the coffee production. It literally looked as though in one moment every employee stopped - tubes of bricks sliding down the conveyor belt were hardening before they were ever cut and mix was half sifted together.

These bricks are drying in the heat.

These have finished drying, been baked in an oven, and are set out to be sold.

I am not sure if you can tell from the size of this picture, but that is actually a refridgerator on the back of a motorbike.

I wanted to include a snipet of the actual mountain roads. The infrastructure was well maintained and roads were twisted, but smooth.

We went off the main roads at time, which was mildly terribying and very exhilerating.

Li Liang is an ethnic minority group, we stopped at a waterfall they allow tourists to frequent. We grabbed a picnic lunch in the market beforehand and ate at the falls.

This is another ethnic minority village. They are drying out coffee beans on plastic sheets in their front lawns.

Raking the coffee beans to rotate them while drying.

The closer we got to Mui Ne, the more often we had to drive through herds of livestock. It was an adventure, to say the least.

I wish I had taken a video through the first herd, this was one of the last times (and therefore the least scary).

We stopped by a dragonfruit farm! The plants are as funny looking as the fruit.

Dragon fruit stand - we went and ate about 5 each. It was delicioius.

Finally arriving in Mui Ne, we stopped to look at the fishing village.
We snuck into a resort to shower, hung out by the ocean in Mui Ne, then got an enormous meal. Then we waited around for the night sleeper bus - which was only 2 hours late. We arrived early back in Ho Chi Minh City, and I spent the day shopping, eating as much amazing Vietnamese food as I could handle, and getting one last massage.

February 19, 2012

Vietnam - Dalat

After Vung Tau, we decided to take an overnight sleeper bus to Dalat. It is easy to do - just go down the main drag of tourist companies and you are sure to be approached by someone swearing to have the best deal. Sleeper buses are quite comfortable - bring some warm clothing and a drink or snack, you will be given a thin blanket. The individual compartments are not long enough to stretch out, but I was very comfortable laying on my side, knees hanging off of the bunk. There is a back section with 5 beds together, much more communal, but the best part is that it is a lot darker and longer. I highly recommend the buses, but be prepared for several hours of delays, and if you do a long trip - paying in advance for 2 or more buses between cities - expect overbooking and possibly waiting another day for an open seat.

Dalat is closer to central Vietnam, and therefore was much cooler. We arrived around 6 am and realized we were tired, cold, and overwhelmed. There were a handful of sites on our tentative itinerary, so we set off to the market. The outside market was bustling, and very similar to Korean markets I had been to in the past. I found it quite funny that the inside market wasn't even open when we arrived!

Heading out of the flower section of the market.

Wandering around the city's center, we debated our next move. As chance would have it, we happened upon a few guys from Dalat's Easy Riders. These are motorbike drivers who give tours of the city. The way it works - each person rents a bike and driver for a set period, and they drive you to different locations throughout the day. It cost each of us 20 USD, and was easily worth it. They gave us some choices on locations, and we all agreed on the coutnryside tour, which meant less city locations and a more in depth look into Vietnam's rural culture and a peek into the enthnic minority villages.

Off we went!

Dalat's weather and soil make it ideal for growing flowers. This farm has drivers rush freshly cut flowers down to Saigon, because the prices are exceptionally higher than those in Dalat.

This is a rice wine factory. It reminded me of Korean soju, though I think it is distilled several more times here.

Vietnamese coffee is fantastic. We were lucky enough to get to see the coffee farms, the drying coffee already harvested, and of course, prepared coffee!

Traditionally Vietnamese people drink kopi luwak, or weasel coffee, as a delicacy. I didn't try any, but the coffee shop had lots of weasels for this dish.

This temple was a highlight on the day's adventures. It was very beautiful. This photo was taken by Rob, who went on the trip with me.

The most famous site at the temple was this huge Buddha, but I was also intrigued with the different style statues that reminded me of some in Thailand. It was very ornate. This photo was taken by Rob, who went on the trip with me.

As much as I adore Korea's temple roofs, I might like Vietnam's even more.

Elephant Waterfall was our next stop. Its name comes from the lush hills around it, which resemble huge, green elephants bending over, leaning into the waterfall's pool for a drink. I hope you can get some idea of the scale here- it is a huge waterfall.

This is a silk factory. Our guides walked us through each step - raising the worms in their little casings and pulling the thread apart in these giant machines

The thread is strung through these huge machines, on the left, while the paper with hole punches, on the right, is fed through another slot. The paper has a pattern, which directs the machine on how to string the fabric together. It creates beautiful patterns or pictures based on the directions.

We also stopped at a few ethinc minority villages. Our guides were straight forward and informative, telling us about the history between the Vietnamese and the current government relations. I will detail some of that here, but must admit this is someone else's opinion, and I do not claim to be an expert on Vietnam's domestic politics...

Vietnam's ethnic minorities were originally nomadic, wandering the mountains and forests for food. The current government tried to force them to settle together - different ethnic minority groups living next to one another. There was a great deal of strife since they had rivalries and territory disputes. Eventually, the governmeent changed their policy, they had each ethnic minority group live independently, with Vietnamese villages or cities in between different minority groups. Furthermore, they gave hunting and gathering rights to ethnic minorities - each group had a set area, while Vietnamese were not permitted to at all. The government provides schooling - though not mandatory,. These changes have lead to peaceful relationships between the different ethnic minorities and the government.

Dalat's Crazy House is very well-known in the area. It is a hotel which also charges an entrance fee and allows tourists to wander around its labyrinth of rooms connected by twisting stairwells. The story behind the hotel is quite interesting, and it is still under construction. The owner's father is a former Vietnamese president from the 1980's, and an earlier project was torn down because it was percieved as anti-socialist.

For information on booking and prices, check out this site, hotels-in-vietnam.com.

This is a view of Dalat from part of the Crazy House.

Vietnam, like Korea and Thailand, uses broken glass shoved into wet cement as a cheaper alternative to barbed wire fences.

The last glimpse at Dalat's countryside - this lake is well known because honeymooners take these boats across it to stay at the resorts on the other side of the lake.

If you would like to book a tour with my fantatic guides through Easy Riders, call Mr. Hoai at 012 7979 8379 or book online at easyrider-club.com.