Dalat sits at an altitude of 1,500 metres above sea level in the Central Highlands. It is known as the Paris of Vietnam and is well known for its flower gardens and rolling hills. I would liken it to Wellington, NZ with its wind and rain, I was properly cold for the first time in months.
For my second day here I took a countryside tour by motorbike. Along the way we visited various farms and factories and got a better look at life outside a major hub. First up we visited a coffee bean processor, Vietnam is famous for its coffee beans and Dalat is covered in trees producing just that. They flower once a year and are harvested by hand. They are then de-husked and laid out to dry for around three days depending on the heat of the sun. Afterwards they are bagged up and sent off for export.
Next we saw rice wine being made. Rice wine is the alcohol of choice for most Vietnamese because it is cheap. It is made by steaming the rice and then putting it into barrels with some yeast and sugar to ferment. After 20 days in the barrel it is taken out and steamed again. The resulting liquid is taken off and there you have your first batch of wine at about 60% alcohol. The rice is steamed twice more creating a 50% and a 30%. The lowest percentage is what is usually sold as rice wine, the higher percentages are kept for ‘medicinal purposes’ because nothing makes you feel better than being a bit pissed apparently. The dry husks left from the coffee beans are used here as fuel for the fires, nothing is wasted. Rice wine is usually made in villages when the rice harvest yields bad grain, the good stuff is kept for eating and the bad is made into alcohol, the pulp left from the steaming can also be fed to the animals.
Next up was the silk factory. Here we were shown the silk worm being fed mulberry leaves which they use to build their cocoon. Once they hatch the cocoon is taken and soaked in hot water until the fibres begin to loosen. Once a thread can be pulled it is fed into a spinning machine which binds it with many others to create the thread suitable for weaving into cloth. The women here typically work 8 hour days and have four days off a month, their monthly wage is around 6 million Dong or $300.
We then visited Elephant Head falls which were spectacular and we were able to climb down and almost get in behind the falls, the power of the water is thrilling and terrifying. Afterwards we stopped for lunch and the guides ordered on our behalf. I was able to try lots of different dishes and it was some of the tastiest food I have had here. After lunch we took a quick look around a ‘minority village’. Historically these people were nomads who would move into an area and clear any surrounding forest. De-forestation is now such a big issue in Vietnam that the government pays for them to stay put.
The last stop of the day was the ‘Crazy House’ which is designed and lived in by Dang Viet Nga. It is open to the public and you can also stay there in one of the ten specially designed and themed rooms. The idea of the house is that it reflects nature and instead of working to blueprints the architect paints her ideas which are then interpreted by local builders (great when you don’t have a building code or inspectors to contend with). The lack of handrails would make this place impossible to create in NZ. If I had been given the opportunity to design my dream treehouse as a ten year old I would probably have come up with something similar.
On my last day in Dalat I indulged in some shameless retail therapy. After spending the last five months in some fairly daggy gear I decided to up my game and hit the Chanel and Prada knock offs. The next day I was back on a bus for five hours headed to Nha Trang, from here we swapped onto a sleeper bus (luckily made for someone just my height and no bigger) and spent fifteen hours winding our way up to Hoi An. Thankfully this was the most sedate bus ride I have taken in this country and was actually able to get a decent sleep without the fear of imminent death. I am now settled into my favourite place in Vietnam, the beautiful Hoi An, and look forward to spending at least a week cycling around exploring the old city and perhaps taking a few cooking lessons while I’m at it.
Featured Image by: Lee Aik Soon