Taking it Easy in the Central Highlands...

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December 8th 2012
Published: December 13th 2012
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The weather in Da Lat was much cooler than on the coast and soon after arriving in shorts and t-shirts we were digging out the few warmer clothes that we had from the bottom of our backpacks to keep us warm for the couple of days we had planned to stay there. After seeing some pretty basic places we eventually found a really nice guesthouse to stay in and set about arranging our activity for the next day - a motorbike tour through the countryside with some Easy Riders.

Easy Riders were a group of motorbike riders formed in Da Lat in the 80's who began to take tourists off the beaten path on bike trips, either for one day or for a few days, but not long ago split and went their seperate ways. As such there are now many different groups calling themselves the Easy Riders who all offer a similar service and no one really knows who the original ones are, so when deciding which company to go with we just had to choose who we felt most comfortable with rather than try and hunt out the 'real' Easy Riders.

After speaking with a few different guys we decided to go with the Motorbike Company and booked a one day trip for the following day which would take us through the Da Lat countryside - we initially wanted to do a longer trip for 2-3 days but for both cost and time reasons we decided against it. We then checked out the town, which is said to be the Paris of the East and the honeymoon capital of Vietnam - even though the lake setting was nice and there were lots of cafe's, we personally couldn't see this at all and if it wasn't for the bike trip would have struggled for something to do here. That evening a few of us went for dinner at a small local restaurant and had an early night in preperation for our trip tomorrow...

The next morning we were up early and after a Banh baguette for breakfast (best one we have had yet!) we were ready for our bike trip. We set off on two bikes with our guides, Ben and Lam, complete with Easy Rider blue jackets, and the first stop was Gold Dragon Pagoda, which (surprisingly) was a Pagoda with gold dragon statues surrounding it. Then we rode further into the countryside and saw several vegetable and flower farms, both of which Da Lat is famous for. All the vegetable farms are manually looked after which must be back breaking work, there are no machines or automatic systems in place here to cultivate the crops or keep them watered and everything is planted and picked by hand. Next we were back on the bikes and approaching a big mountain-like forest, which Ben and Lam indicated we would climb and meet them on the other side - we thought they were joking but they weren't! We climbed the steep trail for ages with no water and if it was cool the day before, it was positively hot now. We were out of practice as we hadn't really done any strenuous activity since leaving China but we made it to the top and were affored great views across the whole city. Then we made our way down and jumped back on the bikes to be whisked through the countryside past some amazing scenery to our next stop, a coffee plantation.

Vietnam is the second biggest exporter of coffee in the world after Brazil, who knew? So they have lots of different types of coffee that they grow and sell, but the one we were most interested in was Weasel coffee. Basically weasels are fed coffee beans which go through their reproductive system and once they come out naturally, they are seperated from the poo and washed and then made into an expensive coffee! Scott tried a cup and said it was actually really good...I took his word for it. After the coffee experience we went to Elephant Falls, a really pretty waterfall (but no elephants) further into the countryside. We scrambled down stones and squeezed through rocks to go behind the waterfall where we promptly got soacked within a few seconds, before then going around to the front of it for a few photos. It was really nice here and we stayed for a while until we made our way back to the top and round the corner to a massive laughing Buddha statue called the Happy Buddha, situated in the grounds of Elephant falls.

After lunch, where our guides ordered a selection of local dishes for us (all delicious and cheap), we stopped at a rice wine cafe where we tried the potent stuff and saw the weasels who produce weasel coffee, then made a visit to a silk factory. This was really interesting as we saw how silk is made from silk worms (strange creatures) and how it ends up looking once it has been extracted from the cocoons and run through the machines. It's really clever work and you would never guess how it looks originally, nothing like silk, more like candy floss - really wiry and coarse, but through several processes it is cleaned, spun, imprinted and dyed and eventually looks like the silk that we know. Then we were heading back and the drivers really went for it - we were zooming around mountains and through country lanes with the wind in our hair until we were back in Da Lat, and all the while we felt safe and the drivers were really concious that we were comfortable which was good.

Lastly we stopped at the Crazy House back in town, a set of surreal kitsch rooms designed by an architect (possibly inspired by Salvador Dali) which would seem more in place in Disneyland. Each room is designed differently and there are no straight walls or right angles - everything looks sort of 'messy' but in a really cool way. We enjoyed wondering through it for a while before we called it a day and were dropped back at our guesthouse at 4pm after an amazing day with the Easy Riders. The trip enabled us to see some stunning scenery and interesting sites which we wouldn't have seen otherwise, as well as experience a motorbike trip with professionals, and we would really reccommend Ben and Lam who were great drivers and guides.

We booked onto a bus for the next day to take us back to the coast further south as there was nothing else we wanted to do in Da Lat, and after a bite to eat that night we packed up our bags and got another early night. We can't believe our time in Vietnam is almost over, even though we have stayed longer than we intended to it has gone really quick and we will be sad to leave as we have really enjoyed it, but we are also looking forward to getting back to Thailand now...next stop, more beach time in Mui Ne!

S&V's Travel Info & Tips:

General Info: Approx 33,000 VND to £1 / 21,000 VND to $1. Much cooler in Da Lat than on the coast so take a few extra layers for the evenings!

Transportation: The bus from Nha Trang was really good and took 4 hours with a company called Tran Phuong (?). The journey cost $7 each and there were free taxi's to take you into town from the bus terminal.

Food: We really liked Tu Anh's Peace Restaurant for good and cheap local food - we ate all our meals there! The Banh stalls were also very good, and although we didn't try any there were quite a few bakeries around which looked nice.

Accomodation: We found a lovely guesthouse called Les Sapines for $10 a night just off the main street. The French family who ran it were really nice and the room was 10 times better than others we saw for the same price.

Other observations:

x) Some of the Easy Rider's on the street (especially the ones outside Peace Cafe) were really annoying and each time they saw you would hassle you about doing a trip with them, even if you told them you didn't want to or had already done one.

xx) Our one day bike trip cost $18 each and was well worth it, we would reccomend the Motorbike Company located near the Hangout Bar and opposite Les Sapines GH.

Additional photos below
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13th December 2012

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Congratulate you on a successful travel. And specially the pictures are awesome......:) Lapel Pins

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