Edit Blog Post
Published: August 27th 2013
Da Lat was just a 4 hour bus drive from Nha Trang but rising to 1,500 metres the dramatic change in climate makes it feel like much further away. This city was originally developed to be much needed salvation from the heat and humidity of the south central coast but although nicknamed the city of flowers because of it's nationwide trade of cut flowers, the city itself is not that pretty and actually a bit short of things to do. It is however, a really good base for seeing the sites around so, enjoying the lower temperature (about 20 degrees and rainy), we spent the afternoon studying maps, guidebooks, internet and tour agents for what to see. We decided against a private car and driver and also against riding on the back of the popular 'easy rider' bikes with a guide so we were left with one option... renting our own ped. This meant taking our chances in this very untouristy area and a risk of not finding a single site but we had a good nights sleep and early morning to give us a head start.
The first stop was a flower garden north of the central lake where
we had a good walk around the network of gardens including a bonsai tree area, cactus garden, topiary animal farm and bird of paradise flower bed amongst many others. At the top of the garden was a 3 large of polytunnels containing well nurtured plants and flowers, the best being the collection of roses.
Next, after a full tour of the lake and some very questionable map reading on my part, we finally managed to navigate west out of the city. After about 25km of driving into the hills, down again and through a couple of small villages we found ourselves riding past endless coffee plantations, papaya trees, banana plants and many other produce farms. We stopped briefly to pick fresh coffee beans and then see some being dried before sampling a fresh cup at the cafe opposite.
The next mission was to find the silk worm factory which would heavily rely on the pact we made earlier to be more assertive and daring with the locals and to ask directions. After several stops, much pointing, gesturing and even drawings, we were in a market town somewhere near and completed the last part in convoy with a local
lady who escorted us to the entrance after dropping her children off at the school. The factory was extremely interesting especially since we were lucky enough to get our own private tour. We saw the cocooned worms stored in the freezer at -15 then the agitator type machines which spin the individual threads in hot water from the cocoons onto yarns. There is a separate hand operated machine for the double (male, female) cocoons which are rarer and a lower quality finished product. Each yarn was then spun into finished threads. Our tour guide gave us all the facts... 1 cocoon Makes 1000m of thread, 9kg of cocoon makes 1kg of silk and 1kg of finished silk is worth $50. We also saw how the factory is run from 2 large boilers fueled by coffee bean shells, a bi product of the plantations. This itself also allows for a bi product to be created from the cocoon remnants by drying them on the boilers and making a less valuable silk ($9 per kg). In another area, the threads are dyed and then made into fabrics, some plain, some patterned, on 1930s machines. Finally we observed some hand embroidery and were
told that the examples in progress would take 40 days from start to finish. Well worth the effort to find this place.
On this adventure west we also came across some Achiote trees and pinched some of the spikey fruit, the seeds from which are used in the colouring of cheeses namely red Leicester and also in colouring lipstick.
We bypassed all the obvious waterfalls here since the water was too cold to swim and we didn't see that we would get any more out of it that what we saw in the endless tourist pictures splashed about. Instead, we braved a completely different direction in the afternoon first returning to town then taking the south bound road. The challenge here was to find the infamous 'chicken village', named after the giant concrete chicken mascot plonked in the middle. I don't know why this became such an important quest for us but once we started we were hooked on finding it. Again, the final leg was guided by a local on ped and up a dirt track we never would have found without daring to ask for help. The chicken was exactly what it said on the tin - a giant concrete statue. There were no frills, not even a sign post. The story behind the chicken was unknown to the lady we met in the village but looking it up on the internet we found the tale of a girl who went on the hunt for a four fingered chicken requested by the family of her husband as a gift in exchange for the marriage but she got lost and died in the mountains. Some years later the government offered the village a gift to lift their spirits during hard times and still mourning they requested this giant chicken - random!
Back in the town we also visited Hang Gna guesthouse or 'the crazy house', designed by Dang Viet Gna, the architect daughter of ex Vietnam president Truonh Chinh and inspired by Da Lat's surrounding area and Gaudi. The house, is actually still unfinished but we were able to climb over half of its winding staircases, see 10 guest rooms and loads of nooks and crannies as well as explore the mushroom and spiderweb garden. The design is based on 3 main tree houses which are each connected to each other with a network of raised walkways and staircases and a fairy tale house, which Gna herself now lives in, is situated in the middle. The exterior resembles a huge and wild tree and reminded me of Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree. On the inside the tree theme continues with roots and branches weaving around each curve of each building. There are virtually no corners or edges in the whole build and wondering around really does feel like being in the faraway tree.
Our final visit in Da Lat was the local market, a busy trading place even in the rain. The fruit, vegetables and cut flowers provided the vibrant colour whilst the fresh fish provided the smell. Less familiar cuts of meat (chicken heads and tripe etc.) seemed to outnumber the usual cuts but even more abundant was the choice of rice, pulses and beans. We were amazed at buying a whole bunch of sweet bananas for 10,000 dong to accompany our latest favourite - roast meat, baloney, lettuce, cucumber, basil, corriander and meat sauce baguette, also 10,000 dong (10,000 = 30p).
Da Lat - a great way to explore what feels like the real Vietnam.
Tot: 2.625s; Tpl: 0.052s; cc: 9; qc: 50; dbt: 0.0385s; 2; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb