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Published: February 19th 2017
This was a long day driving, but I enjoyed the opportunity to see how people live.
As we drove north from Ho Chi Minh City, and across the wide Doi Dong Nai River, we saw a lot of new development, the result of investment by overseas Vietnamese, and other Asian investment. The buildings were mainly high rises and medium condos. We were travelling on a toll expressway, so there were few billboards and no business signs. Everyone obeyed the rules of the road, such as only one car in each lane, and there were no motorcycles. The scene was green with crops and wild plants. Where there were streams, bamboo grew thickly. For a great distance the farming consisted of rubber plantations. Some looked mature, some were very newly planted, and some were firmly established but too new to tap. Further on, there were some cornfields and scattered banana trees, presumably for the farming families’ consumption, but possibly wild. Some sugar cane also grew, although not on a large commercial basis.
When we turned on to Highway #20, the main north south artery, the road was two-lane, with a great variety of shops and cafes in the towns. We
Equivalent to the Trans Canada Highway
were in an area that the French colonialists tried to establish for supporters of the anti-communists, mostly Catholics from the north. Lots of the people are still Catholics and every town had several churches. Homes that might have had their Buddha shrine on the top floor had a Mary shrine, or in one case St Francis.
We stopped at a huge rest stop for a break. Similar to those in other countries, the shop was doing a roaring business in junk food. Thuy bought fruit from a small vendor: the large guava was about as ripe as a green Anjou pear, and the mango was not ripe. What was marvellous was watching the vendor peel and cut the fruit quickly using a big butcher knife while holding the fruit in her hand. Her economical hacking motions left the fruit easy to eat. Later, I saw other very big rest stops - extraordinary in that there are already so many cafes along the road, complete with hammocks and tea service.
After a time we drove through an endless teak plantation; it had been planted by Madame Nhu
, known as the Dragon Lady in the 1960s for her ruthlessness as
Once belonged to Madame Nhu
the powerful sister-in-law of the President. She sold the teak wood to make gunstocks, according to Thuy. The government now owns the plantation.
An older woman made inventive use of her environment by drying on a mat on the excellent new wide sidewalk her purchased, peeled corn-on-the-cob . I began to notice that most of the houses had satellite TV dishes and wondered if reception was affected by the rust on the dish, inevitable in a tropical country.
In the late morning, the road began to rise up into the highlands. The temperature had already moderated to pleasant. While we were going through the Bao Loc Pass, we glimpsed the post-modern design of a memorial to the Vietnamese who had perished in the war. On the other side of the Pass, prosperity was more evident, particularly in the number of nice houses, both bungalows and the three-storey style we have seen throughout our travels to date. With the cooler environment, more trees of greater variety grew, and many of the houses had nice gardens around them, stocked probably from the garden nurseries we now saw.
We had lunch in a large tea and coffee plantation outlet. Essentially
Ho Chi Minh Road
Once dangerous and forbidding
they were selling green, jasmine and Oolong tea in many packaging formats. I bought a package with five smaller packages for $2.50! I could not see anything about weight, but it feels like about one and a half pounds. Lunch was delicious – too much food as always. I asked Thuy if theirs was a culture that required too much food to be provided to guests and she said yes. After a party, she said the family might eat leftovers for a week. At home, if even one guest comes for a meal, she prepares many dishes. But, for just her own family (son and a few other relatives), she prepares steamed vegetables in soup, rice and a main dish. Sounds more reasonable. She claimed she had already reduced the number of dishes for our lunch. The feature dish was a wonderfully flavoured fish soup in which two Grouper steaks floated. Thuy assembled the soup by placing egg noodles in an individual’s bowl, adding vegetables from the soup, adding broth, and dividing off a portion of the fish. The broth was deeply flavoured, although still light in colour. I had eaten beef soup for breakfast – I am happy to
Ho Chi Minh Road
eat soup for every meal!
On the bus again, most of us nodded off in the warmth. I woke up to the terrifying sight of a big truck coming straight at me! Actually, it was passing by our bus at speed and looked to be on a crash course because we were driving through road works and the space was narrow indeed. Three more big trucks whizzed by in succession, startling me every time! Seemingly as long as your horn is blaring, everyone else should take care. At one place, where we passed another passenger bus with a bit more caution, there were only a few inches between their wheels and the barely supported edge of the unfinished road. The vehicular hierarchy is from big to small, each vehicle intimidating the smaller ones and accepting intimidation from the bigger ones.
At a seemingly random moment, Thuy had the bus stop so we could cross the busy road to see coffee growing. Very small garden - it may have been for personal consumption. Beside it was a thriving plot of squash plants.
We rose quite high in the mountains until we came to the Truc Lam Zen Monastery
. The site’s fame
Truc Lam Zen Monastery
Bathed all in calm serenity
was obvious because of the good-sized, full parking lot. Glad to be out of the bus, we climbed up to a serene garden surrounding several large Buddhist temples. Visitors quietly walked along the paths, admiring flowers and large trees. Monks cared for the lawns and buildings, performing their tasks without haste. We had time to marvel at the view of the valley to one side and to look at the modestly decorated interiors. In a small pagoda hung a highly decorated large bell, rung once while we were there, presumably to signal the monks.
Too soon we met Thuy again, to walk over to a cable car. The ride sailed us over breathtaking views of the treed valleys and high hills. The late afternoon sun highlighted the natural geometry of the plants and the steeply pitched terrain.
Less than an hour on the bus brought us to Da Lat. For those of us needing to be reinvigorated, Thuy offered a brisk walk through the central streets of this mountain resort. We sped past goods shops and small businesses catering to both residents and tourists. The best was a large bakery full of dozens of kinds of sweet buns
Da Lat bakery
Delicious smells from French pastries
from the French tradition. The worker at the “baguett” counter was rapidly putting together sandwiches for an endless stream of motorcycle riders.
Wanting to show us even more hospitality, Thuy took the few of us still with her to a charming bar along the town’s central lake. We ordered drinks and watched the darkening sky reveal the multi-coloured lights of the hotels, restaurants and boats around the lakeshore. Unfortunately, the service was so slow and incompetent that we had to give up on some of our drinks and make our way back to the hotel for dinner. View map of trip to date.
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