Before we arrived in Vietnam, I'd been dreaming about doing a tour with the Easy Riders. This blog post from Surrounded by the Sound, which I read pretty early into our trip last year, really clinched it for me. Get out in the countryside! See the people going about their daily lives! Get away from all those other lame-o tourists too afraid to see the REAL 'Nam!
Well... just before we arrived in Đà Lạt, we started doing some research. Turns out these trips, if you want to do an overnight, run in the neighborhood of $120-$150 per couple per day, depending on where you want to go and a few other factors. Not including food. This in a place where you can get a really nice hotel room for $25 a night and rent a scooter for an additional $10. The math just didn't make any sense to us.
On top of that, after our arrival in Dalat, we saw what a glut there was in the market. Dudes wearing "Easy Riders" jackets loiter in front of all the tourist hotels, plucking at your sleeve as you walk by. They pretty much all offer the same basic itineraries, so this previously untrodden tourist-free wonderpath has become pretty well trampled down.
But I was not prepared to let the dream die. So Logan found (it wasn't too hard - he was hanging out in front of the hotel and was BY FAR the nicest guy Logan chatted with) a really delightful guy named Châu Thiệt, or Ted, who took us on a wide-ranging day trip for $22 each.
Logan rode with Ted, while I rode with Ted's friend.
Rachel frustrated by Logan and Ted's superior hog riding skilz.
First stop: Linh Phuoc, the Dragon Pagoda, where their big white Buddha was recently painted gold.
This particular pagoda is famed far and wide for the quality of their bells; temples all over the region place orders here to be filled. The process was very cool to see, as the molds for the bronze bells are all carved by hand!
Ted showed us that once the bells are completed and installed, people write prayers and supplications and stick them inside - from the booming toll straight to Buddha's ear.
Were you wondering why it's called the Dragon Pagoda? Supercool dragons, of course! With carlight eyes and beer-bottle bodies!
That's my kinda dragon. Rowr!
Ted also showed Logan that tiger's claw flowers make a wonderful ersatz moustache, if yours is just taking too long to grow in. LOVE THIS PHOTO. Logan's so patient.
Well sort of patient...
We also got to learn a lot about silk production, from worm all the way to woven fabric! Intellectually, I was always aware of the fact that silk is spun from silkworm cocoons, but seeing the process was completely fascinating and perhaps worth the trip on its own.
First, we went by a place that gets the silkworms and feeds them on mulberry leaves until they begin to spin.
The cocoons and hard working larvae are kept on these frames in the sun - we could get right up and poke 'em! which Logan did.
More of a caress if you ask me. -L
I gotta say, the silkworm larvae are not the sexiest beasts in the animal kingdom.
After their cocoon is completely spun, the frames are broken down and the pupae are taken to a nearby factory. They're then dumped into hot water, which kills them (the catepillars are apparently then sold as food in Vietnam!) and begins to break down the silk fibers so they can be spun.
Many of these women were handling 15 or 20 cocoons at a time, threading them onto the bobbins that spun silk thread ceaselessly over their heads.
In a corner of the factory, one woman was working with the larger cocoons that are made when two larvae spin a cocoon together. This makes a much thicker silk filament.
The strands these women produce are then woven into thread, some of which is made into raw silk fabric for export. Some have patterns woven into them by an honest to goodness Jacquard loom, which uses actual punch cards I've never seen outside of a museum (Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, specifically - our post here)! The racket these looms make is deafening and a bit hypnotic.
And then! Off to the waterfalls! Where we did lots of clambering and managed to mostly not injure ourselves one little bit.
The happy couple at Elephant Falls:
Just above Elephat Falls is a pagoda with very nice grounds you can explore. Dalat is famous for being one of the cooler spots in Vietnam, due to its altitude (this is why so many veggies and flowers can be grown here), so wandering outside was very pleasant.
Plus, this pagoda has the best happy Buddha ever!
The navel of the gods.
It's interesting to see how offerings left in temples differ. In some places, you'll see older-style stuff like fruit and rice, but more and more often there are boxes of cookies and pyramids of soda cans.
Last stop (after a very full day!) Dalat's train station, built in 1938 in a local Art Deco-ish style.
The only service currently running from this station is a short tourist jaunt - it doesn't actually connect to any of the main lines anymore. Turns out it was bombed. A lot. And the tracks haven't been repaired since the war. So now it's pretty quiet, with a souvenir shop and a few old train models. It's a popular place for wedding portraits.
Our one-day trip with Ted and company was great. He was really personable, telling lots of stories about the surrounding areas and his life in Vietnam - he was in the South Vietnamese army and was in a reeducation camp after the war. Talk about good times. I would definitely recommend him if you're looking to do an Easy Rider style tour of Da Lat.
Here's Ted's contact info:
tel. 063. 38 34 157 mobile 0914 031 620
ted_easyrider (at) yahoo (dot) com (don't want him to get spammed on our account!)
He also will run the multi-day tours, if you're interested (and the math works for you).