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Published: February 8th 2006
Today I was hanging out with Duc, Easy Rider #12. I met him in the lobby of my $4 hotel. The Easy Riders are a bunch of freelance motorbike guides offering their services to take you off the Sinh Cafe minibus track. Yes please. I met a girl at my Halong Bay tour who had spent 8 days with her guy and said it was the best thing, ever. So I was very excited to meet an Easy Rider, it was like meeting Angelina Jolie.
Duc's awesome. He told me his life story and he said he was sent to re-education camp and his village was bombed and he's lost absolutely everything several times in his life. But now he has a cool job and a wife and kids. He was giving me a personal tour of Dalat and the surrounding area for $12.
First thing we saw is the Crazy House, which is this hotel/tourist attraction sort of thing designed by Ho Chi Minh's right hand man's daughter who studied in Moscow. Its like that Mushroom house in Whistler, but it's not... nice. If she didn't have her lofty connections the commies would tear it down in a
heartbeat because the design is "Anti-Communist". I didn't really like it, very impractical and the hotel rooms I saw didn't look comfortable at all. Its dark wood and concrete and it looks like its from the 60's but they just started construction in the 90's and they're not done yet. They had animal statues with glowing red eyes in some of the rooms, there's no way I would be able to sleep in that sort of enviroment. Maybe I'm just bitter because I nearly gave myself a concussion when I smacked my head on one of those appropriate-for-the-average-Vietnamese height bamboo beams.
Then we drove to a village on the outskirts of Dalat. I met an old man who worked for the French until that all went to hell, and then after the north went Communist they persecuted the Catholics (religion isn't commie friendly) and so all the Catholics moved south to Dalat and started that village.
I was walking through the flower, vegetable, and fruit fields and I stopped to talk to a Mr. Huan. Mr. Huan and all his family work in a strawberry field all day. He spoke near fluent English. I chatted with him a
Complete with bowls full of writhing eels. One attempting freedom(or suicide) almost got into my shoe.
while and he gave me some strawberries, I gave him a dollar. Duc later told me that Huan worked for the South Vietnamese and US during the war. After Saigon fell (was liberated) Huan was sent to re-education camp for years. I'm not quite sure what re-education camp entails but I imagine its like the classroom time of Driver's Ed, but you don't get to watch Road Rage videos filled with 80's cheez, and you don't get your license at the end of it, and they probably beat and starve you while you're doing it. And its months or years long. Now Huan has no citizenship or property rights so this educated, valuable member of society is reduced to growing strawberries for a living.
You can't make that stuff up!
Next we went to the Buddhist Meditation Center. The cool thing about Dalat is that it is THE destination for domestic tourists! So you see tons of Vietnamese people wearing tour company hats and shirts and they're all happy and on vacation. So I was one of the very few Western tourists there. The meditation center is gorgeous, lots of bonsais and monks around. I went into the
Dalat was founded by the French and there's an Eiffel tower to prove it.
temple and there's a big altar with a big bronze Buddha with incense and fruit around, and then this one monk had this huge Tibetan (Vietnamese?) singing bowl, it must have been 20 gallons, and then the monk kept hitting the bowl every 10 seconds or so and the sound would reverberate and you could smell the incense and see the monks and the people praying. It was really, really cool. I just sort of stood there for about 10 minutes watching. I didn't take a picture because it didn't seem right, but trust me when I say it was cool.
Then we went to go see some waterfalls. I met up with a nice young couple on vacation from Saigon and they spoke very good English and they were a lot of fun. In Dalat there's the guys dressed up as cowboys- although they usually look more like Village People- and bears and they put a cowboy hat on you and set you on top of a sickly little pony and you take lots of pictures. Its very popular with the Vietnamese tourists but I didn't indulge.
We drove through the mountains and we made it to
crap like this
Chicken Village, which has a proper Vietnamese name but the tourists just call it Chicken Village because of a huge concrete chicken statue in the middle of town. Its an ethnic minority village and they're very poor so you see lots of cute dirt-smudged little faces running around. They are very good weavers so I looked around the store and I bought a tablecloth for $25. The girl who made it spent weeks on it. Now I just have to lug it around for four months, but I didn't know if I'd ever be back at Chicken Village. We met some of the villagers and we talked and had some tea and took some pictures of the shy little kids.
Then at lunchtime I had some change of plans.
So as you can tell it was really cool having Duc show you around, the man really knows his stuff and he's good company. At lunch I was asking if he had other day trips and looking at his little black book that is filled with rave reviews of his tours from past customers. Page after page of reviews that went something like: I first went on a day
tour with Duc but it was so cool that I decided to spend a week with him, I'm only 18 and $300 is a lot of money but if you've even got the faintest inclination of going a longer trip with this guy DO IT YOU WILL NEVER REGRET IT AND IT WILL BE THE COOLEST THING YOU EVER DO AND YOU WILL SEE THE REAL VIETNAM AND THINGS YOU WOULD NEVER SEE OTHERWISE.
It really spoke to me.
Some people had even hired him for a month.
If only I had enough time... but I have a week. I don't have a Cambodian visa... but I can buy one at the border. Money... ha ha, I'll have to eat rats in Laos. Duc watched me agonize for about 10 seconds and then we picked out a route on a map.
So in short I am paying Duc $300 to take me around the Central Highlands, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and the Mekong Delta for 6 awesome days. I'm not stopping in Saigon, but I'll be back in May. And my budget might be broke but I'll deal with that later.
That's the new
With Huan and family
In the afternoon we saw some more waterfalls, a botanical garden, and a monetary with this really huge Buddha statue in front. It was a great day. I paid him a $100 deposit and I told him to go eat dinner with his family and I'll see him bright and early tomorrow before we head to Lak Lake.
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