3 Day Adventure of a lifetime: Rural Vietnam & the

Trip Start Aug 18, 2010
Trip End Aug 31, 2011

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Flag of Vietnam  , Lâm Ðồng,
Sunday, December 16, 2012

Well rested, I packed my belongings for the bike trip through the highlands from De Lat to Nah Trang. I had a quick breakfast consisting of a baguette and amazing coffee as always in Vietnam, and headed over to greet Boh who started tying up the belongings to the bike. I took the obligatory pre-trip photos and we ventured off out of De Lat. We made a brief stop on the outlying hills for a last photo opportunity and started a meandering ride through the hills lined with rows of coffee, fruit and flowers. De Lat has a reputation for being a romantic city but is also a well known producer of coffee and a range of flowers and out first stop was at a green house where rows and rows of flowers are grown under a seemingly cheap but stable construction of plastic sheets and bamboo, no fancy glass to be found here.

We proceeded further out towards the roaming highlands hills and stopped at a coffee plantation where Boh, who is incredibly knowledgeable, educates me about the different coffee beans found in Vietnam. We of course stop for a coffee, I decided on one of the more adventurous and expensive ($2) blends of Weasel Coffee. Weasel coffee is formed when Weasels- the forest cat-like animals- eat the coffee beans and crap it out, which is then sorted and roasted, as disgusting as it sounds, it's delicious.

A short while after the coffee stop we saw sheets of the weasel and other beans lying outside drying in the sun of most of the villages, a neceasry income for many in the area. We stopped at one of these houses with the drying beans outside, which must be a regular stop for Boh, and get to see some caged Weasels in action before heading to the backside of the house where vats and vats of rice wine are being boiled and distilled. Boh pours me one, and the shot travels down my throat and into my belly like a fiery furnace. He explains that it’s probably about 65% proof and then proceeds to pour some into a beaker and lights it, igniting a blue flame; probably not a good sign for my stomach.

We carried on our ride through more winding and elevating roads and the landscape changed constantly and was a continued stark contrast to the south of Vietnam. Out next break came in the form of a visit to the Cuong Hoan silk factory. With baskets of the silk worms sitting outside, Boh informed me about the process of collecting the worms and the elaborate task of unwinding the silk, which is put through a series of machines staffed by underpaid and hard working locals. The silk is then strung and dried and in different machines, dyed and woven into patterns for clothing. Other silks, with even more skill are woven into pieces of art with precision and pain staking patience.

Nearby we stopped at the Elephant Waterfalls. There was a fairly dodgy path down to the waterfalls, across a rickety bridge and some makeshift stone steps, but the view was worth it. At the bottom, there is a great view of the falls but also a path leading into a rocky entrance which takes you underneath the falls for some good photos and a free shower. We made our way back to the top and Boh leaves me to explore a nearby Pagoda (temple, and there are lots if not too many through Asia!). The temple is very decent though with massive statues inside and a short walk further on a massive Budha statue greets us and I again am ambushed by some Vietnamese armed with cameras and a impromptu photo session.

Our journey continued on through to steeper hills presenting great views of the valleys below and the ride is constantly accompanied by the smiles, waves and shouts of "hello" from the small children who respond with a massive smile when you greet them back. We stop for lunch at a cheap looking eating hall one of the highest hills, but the meals is probably the best yet in Vietnam and costs only $3. A feast consisting of BBQ chicken, BBQ pork, soups, salads and rice is bought before us and we struggle to get through it all.

Our ride after lunch takes us through some very remote and rural villages and we decide to stop at some. At one in particular the people all look slightly different, much darker toned and it’s obvious there is poverty with no children at school. Apparently it’s a very matriarchal society here and when a wife passes away the younger sister has the option of marrying in and carrying on the family! Coffee is again a source of income, and we buy some local apples which are outrageously cheap. A while later we stop at a local market selling all kinds of wares and we buy some BBQ chicken as a pre dinner snick before our final stop Lak Lake.

We started encountering tire problems on the hills outside of Lak Lake, but were fortunate to bump into another couple of riders and borrow their pump and we had to literally motor it down the winding roads and past the lake to get to our destination before the puncture ends our ride completely. Luckily we make it in time but after a few hairy moments and Boh dropped me off at our accommodation before setting off to find a shop to repair the deflated tire.

 After a satisfactory beer Boh returned with good news that the tire was fixed and also gave me the option of either staying at the cheap motel or in the longhouse at a local village. I decided on the latter and we got to sleep in a massive raised wooden house partitioned for the family and guests. Our bed is a simple mattress and mosquito net and I took a short sleep before we had another massive dinner. Boh then suggested we join one of the local guys for a beer who helped getting the tire fixed which I agree to. We took a ride through non lit the streets adjacent to rice paddy fields and sleeping oxen and go to a local bar where I am probably one of the few Western guests to have graced it and are joined by a few others and have some very cheap beers accompanied by dried squid, which is like their chips or peanut condiment to beer. At a decent hour we call it a night for our second full day.

Sleeping rural for cultural experience has is benefits for sure; getting a good night’s sleep might not be one of them though. With a restless night filled with dogs and pigs fighting, hens and chickens clucking and all other manner of pets and animals disturbing my peaceful night combined with a sore back from riding shotgun all day on the winding erratic pot holed filled roads had left me a bit tired. The morning also brought the news that the fighting pigs and dogs had managed to locate my sandals and partially eat them and disposed of them, so after a bit of a search we packed up our things. Before we left I had a brief tour around the family’s home, which consisted of a wide array of animals as I mentioned, although distinguishing between pet and future meal was not easy. Another gourmet breakfast followed and we set on the picturesque road leading out of Lak Lake, past endless green rice paddy fields, being worked on by sun scorched locals, oxen and children. The backdrop of the looming hills certainly masked the hard laboring scene with some beauty.

Sometime later we stopped by a local brick making factory, an odd choice I thought, but the way in which the workers toiled in collecting the clay and soil, put them through relic like machines, with all sorts of danger to their arms and hands and then stacked the brick for drying was pretty impressive. The workers were always smiling and full of jokes, translated to me by Boh, and they seemed intrigued by me and my size, something I had heard commented through the trip. So after some showboating and arm flexing between us, I was offered a smoke of some awful tobacco mix on some ancient looking pipe, took one drag and coughed up a long, which seemed to be enough to gain me an invite to join them for a boozy lunch, which we sadly had to decline as we had some distance to make up on the day.

We hit the roads again, and passed several rural schools, each of which would hail a torrent of cries of “hello” to which my reply was met with all kinds of smiles, jumps and laughter: it’s easy to mistake yourself as a celebrity in these parts. Boh wanted to make a short detour to stop by a family home although he didn’t explain why. Once there, two semi decent sized cages held two mega sized Boa Constrictors! The first one, helped out of the cage by a young teenager with no fear, was gingerly placed around my neck and you could feel the power of the animal. Once I had my photo taken it was the turn of the 47KG monster which was several meters long. With some help, it was eased on to my shoulders, and although I was all smiles and wearing brave face, it was pretty daunting. Not as daunting as the last pet though. A large scorpion was scooped up from a small glass case and dropped into my hand, poisonous tail erect and ready to pounce although I was told not to worry as it was “domesticated” and hadn’t stung anyone…in a while.

We carried on the route along a massive man made reservoir/lake, and Boh let me take a walk along its edge as he rode up ahead to a cluster of trees for a break.  I was busying myself impressing the locals with my awesome knowledge of Vietnamese thus far, each phrase causing a eruption of giggles before I proceeded to slip off the short wall along the reservoir and scraped all the skin off my right shin, good work I thought for one fall! After the short hobble to the patch of trees where Boh was waiting, hammocks and a drink stand were waiting so we rested up for a while, once again the locals steadily staring at the white guy, me.

Not long after our break, the tire issues flared up again, or rather deflated us and after a few hiccups, eventually the tire was kaput, so Boh had to leave me by the roadside with the luggage and a note on my phone enabling to tell any locals in Vietnamese that I was alright and my friend had gone to get the bike fixed. Of course this was the opportune moment for the building clouds to let down a downpour. Luckily I was armed with some colorful ponchos and waterproof bags and had the sense to get Bohs number on my phone. He called to check I was ok, which I was, and I spent the next half an hour, getting all kinds of bemused smiles and double takes from the locals whizzing past on their bikes. Not too long after the rain subsided Boh re-appeared with a fixed tire, I had prompted him to get it replaced as it already bore a few scars from previous punctures but he took the cheaper quick fix option and simply had the hole covered up.

We hit the road again and made up for some lost time, speeding hastily along the narrow dirt roads, not necessarily placing us in danger but the thought of the tire exploding and sending us into the thick brush was always at the back of my mind. We eventually reached our main destination for the day, a waterfall set in one of the national parks, and it was basically deserted except for a few other riders we had met over the previous day and a half. I walked down to the river’s edge at the bottom of the falls and a German couple were having a swim. After a brief chat to the girl, the guy seemed to be acting a bit odd and stayed in the water, eventually professing he was swimming naked, so after a laugh among us,  I turned a blind eye, they got changed  and said their goodbyes and I had the scenic  domain to myself for a while, which happened to coincide with the break out the sun too, although swimming in the water was very surreal it was peaceful too.

We headed off afterwards and made our way to our stop for the final night at a biggish city, which we reached at peak traffic, which was an experience in itself as we meandered through the bikes, trucks and cars, where no rules seemed to apply. After checking in out motel, I had a shower and rest and Boh headed out for a short while before we went out for dinner at a local food hall which was already packed by 7pm on the Friday and full of people well on their way to being drunk.

There were also two football teams celebrating, I assume a cup final or end of season so it was pretty rowdy and fun. In the beginning I was the only westerner present but slowly others turned up (including the German couple), all accompanied by their guides and drivers; only a half a dozen of us. Now either because of our location in the middle of the room, or again the perceived notion I was  a big drinker led to a series of nonstop challenges from the locals to downing beers to the calls of Mot Hai Ba, Dzo, which is their rowdier version of “1, 2, 3, cheers”! This is all before we had a bite, so Boh asked me what I was after for dinner as we had discussed trying some local delicacies, so he ordered a fish broth soup and snake. The snake was surprisingly good, sliced into small pieces, and wrapped in banana leaves and spices before being BBQ’d. the fish soup I wasn’t a massive fan of.

The night turned into a bit of a drinking session as all of us bikers and guides were lead to a Karaoke bar, which I had my doubts about. Sure enough within a couple minutes of us being seated in our booth room a posse of “working” girls entered, locally called “chicken leg girls” due to the long legs and short skirts. This was followed by a series of terrible songs and worse singing and the girls trying their luck but no-one was interested, well none of us westerners!  We eventually called it quits around midnight and about a dozen of us squeezed into a single cab for the ride to the motels!

Our final day started with a bittersweet taste as the journey had been so memorable and exceeded expectations but alas had to end. The last day also promised to be the longest drive which my posterior wasn’t looking forward to. On the outskirts of the city a massive tree plantation which Boh affectionately called the Latex forest as the trees excreted the material for the production of mainly condoms! It’s a very beautiful setting though as the trees are lined in perfect rows and has been the setting for many film scenes in Asia Boh informed me.

Sure enough a couple hours in to out days ride and the tire issues flared up again, and we are forced to stop by a mechanic on a blind bend in the road called “Beckhams Mechanic”, does that mans reach have no end! Boh again opted for the quick fix but within a short while the tire blew again and Boh finally gave in and decided to get the inner tire completely replaced by a female mechanic- the women here are amazingly talented and can do everything! We didn’t experience any more issues after that, thankfully!

We only had a couple of stops left before the journey came to an end. Firstly we stopped at a small family’s home where they were making Rice paper and served us a meal of sweet poppy seed rice paper and spices which was so tasty. A short while later we stopped at local wood carving shops in which they were carving the most intricate furniture and ornaments and selling them for hardly anything considering the work involved. They also had a pet baboon or some sort of red-arsed monkey in the garden who performed tricks which was kind of funny and sad.

The final leg of the journey took us through more forested mountains, we had just escaped the downpour, and the scars from the Vietnam war were still very obvious with some hills unable to generate any flora while others bared the massive craters from the American bombing campaigns. Once through the hill passes we were greeted with sunshine and flat farm lands and we stopped for our final meal together, a small more normal sized portion meal. The final couple hours took us along the coastline and the fishing villages and the looming islands beyond before we entered the outskirts of Nah Trang.

The city is a busy destination for sun seekers from within Vietnam and beyond and also has a reputation as a party beach town but after spending the past few days in the countryside I had little interest in the city.  Boh helped me find some very affordable accommodation and we parted ways, I was incredibly thankful to him for the days just passed as it was a real eye-opener and more eventful than I could have imagined. Despite the unbudgeted cost of the trip it was worth every cent.

My day and a half in Nah Trang was not so eventful. I booked my bus trip to Hoi An for the following day and lounged on the beautiful beaches for a while before catching up on some sleep and even visited a nearby cinema to watch a film, like I said the city and its nightlife didn’t appeal and I was ready to go explore elsewhere although simultaneously thinking the 3 days gone by would be tough to top.
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MOM on

Wow, what a trip, It is so great that you are able to do all of this and to be able to store up all of those wonderful memories (hopefully to be used at some later stage)

I would have loved to have tasted the coffee and the exotic foods that you described.

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