Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Now Dalat's what I'm talking about...


Heading to Dalat.
I dozed as the bus chugged through rugged mountains on the way to Dalat. Every time I opened my eyes I was treated to stunning vistas of rolling countryside and rich vegetation, but the temptations of sleep were sweeter, and I succumbed to dreams. We arrived around lunch time, and checked into a hotel where the bus dropped us off. After a brief relax we headed off to find some lunch and then explored the town and meandered through some markets. There were hardly any tourists and no one paid us any attention as the ramshackle markets went on around us. We walked around the town until sunset, and I've been acting as a photographic tutor to Alex who has a keen interest in learning, and so we had a walk about practical lesson for the rest of the day.


Rickety side streets.
Impromptu markets.
Vietnamese women.
Flower stall.
Strawberries.
Markets on the street corner.
Fruit stall.
Traditional method of carrying goods.
Communist style building.
A temple complex we had a nose around.
Santa's little helper.
Ladies in the street.
School's out!
We spent a while photographing the kids on bikes.

Dalat traffic.
A busy interchange.
For our second day in Dalat we decided to book on a countryside tour from our hotel; and although neither Alex or I are a fan of group tours, it was an easier way of seeing lots of places that we otherwise might not find for just £10. There were six of us on the trip, and by chance we were all British. The minibus stopped at a flower farm, a coffee plantation, a cricket farm, a place where they produce weasel shit coffee, a silk factory, a huge waterfall, a temple, an ethnic village and a house of psychedelic architecture. 

The flower farm was nice, but essentially a collection of huge greenhouses and not massively exciting, but a pleasant way to start the day. Dalat is famous within Vietnam for producing flowers, and exports to the entire SE Asian region. 

Inside one of the greenhouses.
Views over the Dalat countryside.

Next stop was a coffee plantation, and the Dalat region is once again heavily turned over to the production of this global drink, and is apparently the second biggest exporter of coffee in the world after Columbia. It was interesting to see how coffee beans grow like berries on the eight foot high coffee bushes. Everywhere in this region, from front yards to petrol station forecourts, coffee beans are spread out on blankets drying in the sun, with sometimes dogs sleeping on the beans. I guess it helps with the drying.


Beans on the bush.
Wake up and smell the coffee.
Colourful scarves for sale.

We then headed to a cricket farm, where crickets are bred in piles of dry leaves, to be sold and cooked as snacks. It's not much different to eating shrimps really, but I wasn't keen on the idea of it. When we left the breeding tanks we had a plate of fried crickets put in front of us. Only Alex and I from our group decided to try the bugs, and I have to say, they tasted quite alright. They'd been fried in chilli and lemongrass, so were more like some posh crisps than a disgusting horrorshow. I munched about five of the creatures, enough to sample, but not enough to ruin my lunch. 

The plate of fried crickets.
In she goes.

Crunchy.
After eating fried insects, we headed to a weasel farm where they produce a special type of coffee. Weasels are fed a type of coffee bean, which are digested, processed by the weasels enzymes, before being shat out, washed and turned into an expensive coffee. We opted to have a cup; besides, I needed to wash the cricket legs out of my teeth with something, it may as well be a hot cup of weasel shit coffee. The coffee was delicious, both bitter and sweet, both literally and metaphorically.


A caged weasel.
Coffee beans drying out having been through the digestive tract of a weasel.
A strong shot of weasel shit wakes you up in the morning.
We then headed to a silk factory, where silk worms are allowed to go into a chrysalis, and they spin a cocoon of silk around their wormy bodies. Somewhere along the line part of the process involves boiling up these little bugs to steal the silk, and it's then somehow spun into a thread to be used as silk.


The silkworm cocoons.
The production line.
Boiling the bugs to steal their silken shell.
The trip then stopped by Elephant Falls, a huge waterfall that we clambered down slippery rocks to reach, and afterwards we had time to look around a Buddhist temple situated close by.

Elephant Falls.

The penultimate stop was an 'ethnic village'. From what I gather the government had relocated remote hill tribes as it wanted the land for agricultural production, and so had constructed some pretty humble wooden homes for the people to live in. When we were there we only met the grandmothers looking after the little children, as everyone else was at work. The women were out in the fields and the men were further away, possibly in cities, trying to earn money for their families. I was told that they were a matriarchal community, and the wives family would buy the husband with a dowry of livestock. The more handsome and strong a man, the more cattle he would cost. I offered myself for two chickens, but was still rejected.


Granny looking after the kids.
Granny and the grandchildren.
Baby on her back.
The final destination was an enormous, Disney-esque building-cum-hotel, which purpose seems to be extravagance rather than function, and was referred to as the 'Crazy House'. It was partly designed by a Prime Minister's daughter and had quite a fairytale theme, with concrete carved into tree shapes and was very quirky. Having come from the government built relocation village, it felt rather odd to be walking around this monumental waste of money, by comparison.


A view of the 'crazy house'.

On our final day in Dalat, Alex and I hoped to rent some mopeds and explore some more of the countryside. We struggled to find a place where we could rent some, and as walked around town the skies greyed over and drizzle began to fall, and we decided that getting wet and driving about in these conditions wouldn't be the most fun, so we had a quiet day around town and the hotel instead, and organised our onwards journey to Mui Ne.


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