After making very “loose” arrangements with Hiep on a bench next to the lake on Thursday (and paying a deposit) we were not sure if we were going to be collected at the hotel or not. We were pleasantly surprised and relieved when Hiep and Titi arrived exactly on time!
We headed out on an unknown adventure as we sort of muddled together a couple of the itineraries on offer. Our first stop was the Linh Quang Pagoda, the first pagoda to be founded in Dalat in 1931 by superior Buddhist monk Thich Nhan Thu.
We then headed in to the hills past an incredible number of really fancy houses – Hiep pointed out that the new fancy houses were all farmers houses!
We stopped at a random spot and Hiep asked if we would like to climb the hill to see the view. We obviously said yes – after all it was just a hill – NOT! The previous day he had misstated 500m for 2km and here he misstated a hill for Mt Kilimanjaro – OK maybe a bit of an exaggeration but it was a rather long, steep climb – but certainly worth it the view was spectacular.
Oh and this was the map he gave us – he dropped us gave us the map and said see you one the other side – meaning at the bottom, but when we turned around at the top there Hiep was !
One of the great things about being on a tour like this as opposed to one of the standard tours in a bus/minivan is that you pretty much dictate the pace and place. We stopped at smaller places rather than the over run tourist spots.
As mentioned in part 1 – Da Lat is the hub of flower growing and we discovered that a Dutch couple moved here, due to the temperate climate, and erected tunnels for growing tulips for export (there are a lot of properties and restaurants bearing the name Tulip in honour of this). They then taught the locals how to grow in tunnels and the rest, as they say, is history. We stopped at a “small” family run flower farm – most of them are family run and not corporate.
Our next stop was a small, once again family run, coffee farm. They also make rice wine as well as breeding weasels for weasel coffee – the weasels are fed breakfast and lunch and then dinner is coffee beans which are then pooped out in the morning and evidently something in the stomach acids changes the flavour of the coffee – the beans are then shelled and roasted. I wasn’t brave enough to try that one. Tip – don’t imagine that buying coffee directly from the farm is cheaper – it certainly isn’t we could have bought 1kg of beans for what we paid for 400g! Sad, but true.
We headed back up the road – this area is known as the new Hanoi economic hub due to the fact that after the war residents from Hanoi were assisted to move to this area – they arrived with the clothes on their back in the late 1970’s and have grown this area and themselves immensely.
We stopped at a house on the road and discovered that they farmed silkworms! funny, as kids we all had silkworms and drove our mothers crazy with the constant search for mulberry leaves – and yes my kids did it to me as well – little did I know that this is really how silk happens. hundreds of households with silkworms all supplying the silk factories. It boggles the brain to see the sheer number of coccoons used.
Each cocoon makes 1000m YES 1km of thread! They thread these onto a spindle and make reels which then get combined and so the process continues until you have a cloth. Although semi mechanised this is very labour intensive.
We then ventured to the Chùa Linh Ẩn Temple. A relatively new temple built in the early 1990’s due to the influx of people as a result of the economic upturn in the area. There is is 12.5m tall laughing Buddha. A good point to note when visiting temples , or any religious sites, always be aware of dressing respectfully, be aware that these are sacred areas and cover up!!!!!! It is really easy to carry a sarong around with you and warp it around your waist.
We headed back into the city and drove through the Old French Quarter and visited the Crazy House – so called because it looks “crazy”. Designed by eccentric architect Dang Viet Nga, and described by some as ‘expressionist’, the bizarre building is covered in bizarre wooden sculpture. Besides being a tourist attraction it is also a hotel.
Our last stop was the Da Lat Railway Station – it was opened in 1932. The railway station was among the first colonial-style edifices to be built in the area. In colonial times two trains ran daily from Da Lat to Nha Trang and from Da Lat to Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City. Most passengers were French citizens or Vietnamese officials. The journey from Da Lat to Saigon took half of a day. Unfortunately, due to the concern about land mines on the tracks the railway was abandoned after the Vietnam war but there is a short 7km trip that can be undertaken these days.
This was a fantastic trip, well lead by Hiep and Titi, who have been doing this since 1992. They have a wealth of knowledge having lived here all their lives. The trip cost USD 25 each and we paid about another 100 000 VND in entry fees at the official attractions. Definitely well worth it – contact Hiep on +84 90 950 6684 – I will add his email address – just cant find it right now.
Up next – Hoi An and the Train back to Hanoi.