Monday, February 8, 2010

A day in da lat

I didn't write anything yesterday because I didn't feel I had anything particularly interesting or inspiring to say. Majority of the day was spent on the bus to dalat from HCMC - long drive! Left the city at 7.30am and arrived in da lat at about 5.30pm. Apart from being quite long, the trip itself was quite uneventful and I managed to sleep a little bit of it.

Until last night, my initial impressions of Vietnam had been different from what I had expected. I always try to go into a situation with no expectations, because then you can't be disappointed, but just experience it for what it is or isn't. I'm referring to the landscapes particularly by my initial statement- Probably one too many war-time movies in the jungle so I came expecting to see vietnam all swampy and jungly and mosquito-infested! WRONG!! Vietnam is nothing like that (at least not early in the year), it is incredible how much the landscape changes over the country side. I have only travelled a small proportion of the south so far, yet I have seen flat rice plains, large rivers, bamboo forests, rubber-tree plantations, and wait for it.. pine-cone tree forests! I would NEVER have expected that.

Freshly picked strawberries

Which brings me to my current location - Da Lat. Da Lat is a charming little French village in southern Vietnam that is situated in a valley amongst pine-tree forests. It is beautiful, surrounded by not rice farms but strawberry farms (it is the only place in vietnam that can grow strawberries), flower farms and many fruit and vegetable farms. I went on an easy-rider motorbike tour today with a man by the name of Mr Hung. He was very sweet - last night after I had arrived at my hotel he approached me and said he had seen me on the bus and followed me "like a spy" to take me on a tour of the land! The easy-riders are a company of ex-war veterans who have been showing tourists around vietnam via motorbike since about 1995 with many customers and happy reviews. I had been considering doing a longer trip with the group, but with TET coming up I need to make it to the larger cities before the country and transport all shuts down for a week or two!!


Anyway, so today Mr Hung (or Eagle as he has been previously nicknamed) took me on his motorbike around the greater Da-Lat area. First stop was a Buddhist temple where I learnt that he was a Christian - but only goes to church at Christmas. There are beautiful flower gardens in greenhouses over the entire surrounding countryside - full of roses, gerbera's (i think I spelt that wrong...) orchids, babies breath that is sold throughout Vietnam and the world. Beautiful.

Coffee is another crop grown in the area as well - large coffee plantations with both arabica and mocha coffee beans are grown in Da Lat. I learnt that the mocha plant has smooth leaves which the arabica beans have a rough leaf.

Fresh coffee

Next stop was a silk factory where you see the entire process of making silk. It could be a bit gruesome for some I would imagine - as they boil the cocoons to obtain the silk then use the larvae inside to feed the pigs for protein. There is a combination of manual labour and machinery used to make the silk fabric. However, some of the minority people of the area still use looms to make silk fabric by hand.


Also visited another temple, some waterfalls, the railway station and some of the original French Villa's. Beautiful. The 'Crazy House' is also a big tourist attraction of the area designed by a Vietnamese architect, daughter of a previous President who studied in Moscow. The building is still in the process of being built, it is very difficult to describe -made from concrete but it looks like a tree on the outside and inside,, nothing is square or 'normally' shaped or sized, there are animals and plants, and rock formations and a huge spider-web and a giant giraffe. It is like a maze and has been previously described as an "Alice in wonderland' sort of house with little walkways leading you all over the place! Google it!

The temperature here is alot cooler than other area's of Vietnam, so it gets quite cold at night.

Last night I met and had some extremely interesting conversations with an Australian guy and an american/vietnamese couple. I am finding that religion is frequently brought up in conversation over here - most likely stimulated by the many temples around here, and many people on a search for something meaningful in their life.

The American guy we were chatting with was very interesting - son of a tzar i think, his dad was in charge of oil in America, an environmentalist who was very very VERY passionate about protecting the environment, recycling and his work. We spoke over the night about a burner he has designed . it can burn anything with <16% moisture I think to produce some sort of gas which you can cook with and it produces pure carbon at the end that you can put into the ground and it builds up the soil! They have produced many designs which are open plan - primarily to be used in the developing country context as it is extremely cheap and easy to make. In Asia they have been working on a design which allows them to burn rice-husks. His other passion was the black soldier fly which is one pretty amazing bug and it's uses for recycling, getting through rubbish and building up the land. Everything has a purpose and can be used for something else. Very intelligent people and extremely interesting conversations we all had!

I learnt last night how the north is quite different to the south, and it can be much more difficult for men (especially American men) to get around as they are not welcomed as much. It is easy to forget that Vietnam is a communist country. The south is quite capitalist. However the government does keep tabs on where you are all the time (I hadn't thought about this previously) by having all hotels register you upon arrival with your passport and visa details.

TET is coming up, I am learning that the majority of the country will shut down, and have been informed that as a foreigner, particularly female australian I will be welcomed into many people's homes as it brings good luck! I am aiming to get to Hoi An by TET, so we'll see how I go! Off to Nha Trang tomororw.

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