We walk around the corner in the morning and catch the day sleeper bus going to Da Lat, about 8 hours away. Our seats end up way in the back of the bus and what feels like a tomb.
Climbing to my perch in the back I flop down into the reclining seat and my legs are too long, hanging over the drink holder in front of me because they don’t fit in the place for my feet in front of me. I slide backwards in the narrow space attempting to make more room for my feet. My head is very close to the ceiling and now I can’t raise the seat. I start to sweat, the confinement is starting to get to me. Finally I need out, now! The drivers assistant wanted me to sit back down. I make believe I can’t hear him. Finally the bus gets underway and I find a space, with good meditation, that I can survive the next 8 hours of the trip. Melanie just finds another seat. On to Da Lat.
We arrive in Da Lat without any issues. A taxi is near and we flag him down. Showing him the name and address, he has no clue. I use Maps.me and guide us once again near our destination. We get out and pay the outrageous amount of VND$30,000 (about US$1.30, it just sounds much larger). Looking around, we just can’t find it. A little boy playing in front of his house guides us down a set of stairs, and there it is. Great place for about US$8/day, including breakfast and dinner, for both of us. It is a homestay and the family is wonderful, helping us with whatever we could need.
We got settled and take off to find a street food vender and try something that turns out to be fish ball soup. I choke one down and Melanie almost looses it. We abandon or meal and the next place has pizza, our safe food. A couple beers later and $4 lighter, we are happy.
After a good night sleep we wake up to cooler temperatures. Da Lat is situated in the mountains at an altitude of about 1500 meters. This makes for a fairly consistent weather pattern and mild year round temperatures. This also makes Da Lat the flower and vegetable growing region in all of Vietnam. This area is the flower exporter capital of all of Vietnam.
The skies are clear and the temperature mild as we walk down to the local market. There is an absence of any supermarkets here, plus no street lights and basically zero crime. The market is packed with people doing their shopping for the day. Everything you could possibly want is here. Fresh flowers for your home, vegetables, fruits and freshly butchered meats and live fish are displayed. In places the cement floor is still slippery from the fresh blood. The smells are strong of everything that we see mixed with curry and incense burning.
We wander around in awe of finely stacked fruits and vegetables and brilliant colors of every shade of the flower bundles.
Overwhelmed, I need to sit some distance away and order the best coffee you can get. Vietnamese espresso with sweet, fresh cream over ice, US$0.75.
We continue our journey around the lake. People are walking, sitting in coffee shops, sipping tea out of tiny porcelain cups all the while talking and enjoying each others company. They meet us on the street, our eyes lock, a smile crosses our faces and we both give a slight nod, saying hello.
My back finally calls it quits and we hire a taxi back to our homestay.
The next day we head out on scooters with Bruce Lee.
He is going to take us around to see a few things. We get out of town and ride down small lanes avoiding numerous potholes. Most of the roads are new and good.
Our first stop is at a Buddhist temple. We wander around looking and discussing what we see and our thoughts of the day. Always an engaging discussion. Melanie is so much smarter than I am. I feel I was kept in the cave too long.
We stop at a flower farm, a strawberry farm and a coffee farm. Mr Lee explains many things about life in mid Vietnam. We openly discuss the Vietnam War. We are told that the Vietnamese haven’t forgot and and still remember, but it is now buried deep in their hearts, where it will remain. They are happy that their country is finally at peace after hundreds of years of war. They welcome all nationalities, including Americans, with open arms.
At the coffee plantation we are shown the trees and the coffee beans and told of the process of making Weasel Coffee. They use to follow the weasel through the jungles collecting the excrement. Now the weasels are kept in captivity and fed a diet of coffee beans and bananas. The beans are ground very fine and hot water poured on top in the drip coffee maker. After several minutes you have a tiny cup of espresso Weasel Coffee, which is quite rich. We sip slowly on the large back porch with commanding views of the mountains and lake surrounded by beautiful flowers and lush green coffee trees.
Our next stop is a silk factory. We see the worms, cocoons and the entire process leading up to the purple silk robe Melanie bought and the two silk ties I bought, not for me but for my two boys. Paying for our items, I get a chance to sample a dried silk worm larva. An Iranian man next to me jokes about eating the small creatures. I tell him they are very crunchy, but they would have tasted better with salt or covered in Chocolate. We both laugh.
Moving on down the road we see what looks to be a distillery. There is a pile of discarded coffee beans shells out in front drying. We are told nothing goes to waste.
They also make coffee here and they have several cages occupied by weasels. They are using the discarded coffee bean shells for the fire under the large pots boiling the rice mash for the rice wine. I am fortunate to be able to dip a shot glass into a large storage bin and pull out a 1st run sample with a proof of 140.
It is strong, better than moonshine, but surprisingly smooth like a 10 year old Scotch. It will go through 4 different runs that will cut the alcohol content to under 40% before the other ingredients are added for curing. Some of these bottles sell for more than US$500. The pictures below show some of the ingredients of the more expensive wines.
Looking at the bottle with the furry ingredient sort of turned me off to any further sampling.
The last stop we make is to Elephant Falls, one of the largest in the area. We park at another temple and take a look around then walk down the street to the top of the falls.
To get to the base of the falls you have to climb and scramble over large boulders, walk across a 4 inch diameter log while holding on to vines and and slide down a slimy flat rock face. Once on the bottom the mist of the falls pours though a slight crevice in a deafening roar. The rocks push toward the sky all around you as the algae forms the surface of the rocks fighting for sunlight. I step out into the watery onslaught briefly for a quick photo. Very intense.
We stop back at the top for a brief respite of the 35°C heat and rest and a quick drink.
Our last stop is the Da Lat train station. The train station was design by French architects in 1932 and opening in 1938. The building was largely undamaged doing the Vietnam War but the track sustained significant damage and was closed. It opened in the 1990’s with limited service as a tourist attraction.
Tomorrow we are off to our next location, Hoi An.