24.11.2012 - 29.11.2012 31 °C
From Nha Trang, which is one of the most easterly points of Vietnam and on the coast of the East Sea, we travelled westward and a little south up to the mountains to the beautiful little city of Dalat which is nicknamed the "City of Eternal Spring". It has a lovely mild climate because of its altitude which supports its main industries of agriculture and tourism. It is also known for scientific research and education - started while Dalat was under French influence. One of Pasteur's proteges set up medical research activities. The legacy of boarding schools where children from the whole of Indochina were taught by French priests, nuns, and expatriates lasted until the end of French rule. On the tourism front, it is also called the "Honeymoon Capital" because many Vietnamese prefer this beautiful place for their wedding and honeymoon. Our tour guide, Lee, had his honeymoon there.
On the way to Dalat, Lee had the driver make another impromptu stop when we passed an ox cart on the road.
Ox pulling the cart
Lee quickly negotiated with the driver who happily took several willing volunteers for a ride.
Linda, Patty, Bob and Andrea
He took them right down the main street and kept going. We had to chase him down in the bus to get him to stop and return his passengers.
At lower altitudes they grow flowers, vegetables and fruit. There are acres and acres of greenhouses most of which are built with bamboo frames and covered with plastic sheeting. They last a few years and are then easily re-built. We will be able to visit some of these later. In the upper altitudes they grow coffee.
Greenhouses in Dalat
After checking into the hotel and having lunch at a local restaurant,
we had a tour of Dalat and then rode a cable car up to the hilltop Truc Lam Pagoda. Unfortunately it was rainy so the beautiful views were hidden by the mists.
Bob and Patty in Cable Car
Truc Lam Pagoda
Main Altar of the Truc Lam Pagoda - note the monk at the right. He is holding a bat to hit the large brown gong in front of him.
That evening we were able to learn more of the local customs and culture when we attended a home-hosted dinner. We were split into 2 groups and introduced to our hosts in the lobby of the hotel. We then all piled into a van and headed to our host's home. Our host was a local high school teacher who taught mathematics. Her husband was an architect. She took us on a tour of her home which is one of the typical Vietnamese homes - very narrow and 3 stories high with windows at the front and back but not the sides. On the very top floor she had a classroom because in Vietnam teachers are paid very little so they often take in students for extra tutoring in their spare time. Here we are in the home classroom
We then moved down to the kitchen where Mercedes helped put the final touches on dinner which we all then enjoyed
Hazel, Marilyn, Andrea, Michael, Linda, Dave H.
It was interesting to see how few appliances there were in this middle class home. We never saw more than a 2 burner hotplate for a stove.
After dinner we had a lively Q & A period and 2 of our host's 3 daughters played a little electric piano for us
The next day we explored village life and the agriculture of the region. We visited some of those massive greenhouses and saw acres of roses and gerbera daisies.
Greenhouse with roses
We headed up into the mounntains to learn about coffee
The area is known for its "Weasel Coffee" which is coffee made from beans which have passed through the GI tract of a weasel. The weasels eat the surface coating of the beans but do not chew the beans which then pass through the digestive tract intact and reappear to be dried and processed. The farm we visited had about 20 weasels, all kept in little cages and fed lots of coffee beans and bananas.
Weasel poo drying in the sun
Yes, we did try some and found it much too strong for our taste.
We continued on upwards to visit the isolated traditional village of Buon Chuoi which is inhabited by the Chil people, a hill tribe which practices subsistence farming. Vietnam has over 50 tribes. Many who live in the mountains practice "slash and burn" farming and stripping the hills bare. The government is relocating those people to villages and encouraging better farming practices to save their gorgeous environment. With a population of about 88 million and a land area of 127,844 square miles (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia together or slightly bigger than New Mexico) they indeed have a challenge. The road into the village was too rough for our mini bus so we transferred to a tractor-pulled wagon
As soon as we reached the village the children rapidly hopped on to join us for the ride.
Many of the houses had large tarps in front to dry rice
This is a very primitive community - some live in buildings that the government built for them but many live in lean-to sheds where they cook and sleep in the same single room
Toilets seemed to be non-existant and washing areas consisted of a wash basin and not much more - but they did have their tooth brushes!
Bathing and washing area
This is the well that provided the water
They did, however, have a modern school, again provided by the central government,
a community center (with coffee beans drying in the front)
and a Catholic Church
Interior of the Catholic Church
That afternoon we had a visit to Dalat University wherre we learned about their educational system from one of the professors
and then each of us were paired up with one or two students who took us on a tour of their campus and took great delight in practicing their English. Hazel's student knew quite a bit about Canada and admitted that the 2 most famous things he knew about Canada were RIM and Justin Beeber! Here is a picture of our whole group
We later drove to visit the descendants of another hill tribe, the K'ho people and were treated to a dance performance
The next day we were off on another short flight to our last stop in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, commonly known as Saigon.
This is Vietnam's largest city with 8 million people and 4 million motorbikes! In addition you see a few cars and busses, bicycles, and cyclo-rickshaws all sharing the road.
Our first stop was at the War Remnants Museum which was a small 3 story building filled with pictures of the American war and also some other conflicts they were involved in. It was a sad reminder of this country's very troubled history. We then stopped at the Cathedral of Notre Dame
and did some shopping in the Post office which has a lot of space converted to retail activities. Note the picture of Uncle Ho.
The next day we travelled to the town of Cai Bo on the Mekong River. On the way we learned an interesting fact about travel in Vietnam. Since most people travel by light weight motorbikes and since that is a fairly tiring mode of travel, the roadside rest stops have all added hammocks so the travellers can rest comfortably. We stopped to try them out
and also sat down at those ever present tiny plastic tables and chairs for a cup of coffee.
We boarded our boat
and cruised down one of the tributaries towards the mighty Mekonng river to see life in the delta.
Here is a shot of several schoolgirls wearing the traditional Vietnamese dress held up so it won't catch in the chain, riding their bicycles home for lunch.
We disembarked the larger boat and climbed into a sampan
to our lunch spot which was an historic house
It was refurbished with the help of a Japanese foundation. There was an amazingly ornnate interior
with the mandatory ancestor altar in the prime position as you enter the house
We sat outdoors in the back to another multi-course meal which featured fish like this one
and for the brave few, rat. Rats in Vietnam are a pest because they eat the rice in the rice fields. They are not seen as "dirty" and are seen as another good source of protein.
We returned to our boat and continued to the floating markets. Here the boats hang an example of the produce they are selling from tall poles over the boat in the case below it was sweet potatoes.
Other scenes of river life
Dave even found a couple of familiar signs
Back in Saigon we took motorcycle taxis
to a restaurant where they served dog. They raise dogs on farms for meat. A few adventurous souls tried it and said it tasted a bit like duck
Local Restaurant serving dog
Roy testing the restaurant's fare
After returning, we cleaned up and went to the rooftop bar of the famous Rex Hotel for a drink.
The hotel was made famous during the Vietnam War when it hosted the American military command's daily conference, derisively named "The Five O'Clock Follies" by cynical journalists. The rooftop bar was a well-known hangout spot for military officials and war correspondents.
On our final day in Vietnam we travelled to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels which were a major base of operations of the Viet Cong during the American War. These started out as bunkers built by homeowners. They subsequently joined the bunkers with tunnels and developed a vast network stretching more than 125 miles. There were whole villages operating like this.
Typical entrance to the tunnels
A typical tunnel
Underground they had hospital areas
meeting rooms for planning military strategy
and cooking areas
We then went to visit a village elder and 2 former Viet Cong soldiers who had lived in the tunnels to talk with them and learn of their lives at that time.
We returned to our hotel to do any last minute shopping and to get ready for our last dinner in Vietnam - another beautifully prepared dinner
with many courses.
Tomorrow 14 of us go on to Cambodia for a post-tour extension trip and we say good bye to our new good friends, Linda and Dave H and our wonderful guide and new friend Lee Trien.