There are plenty of kooky things to keep you busy in Dalat, but the surrounding countryside is pretty incredible too. The best way to see the nearby highlands is on the back of one the Easy Riders’ motorbikes. The Easy Riders are a group of about 80 men who do countryside tours around Dalat. They started in 1992, two years after Vietnam “opened” (i.e., loosened Communist restrictions on commerce), back when a Vietnamese person associating with a Westerner could still prompt suspicion from the police. The Easy Riders started doing countryside tours because that way they could stay outside of the cops’ radars, and through the years, the tours became popular amongst Westerners wanting to get off the beaten track. It’s pretty easy to book one of these tours…you just stand outside of the Peace Hotel (where we were staying) in Dalat, and they’ll find you. Jeremy and I negotiated to do the tour on the back of Thau and Rene’s motorbikes for $18 each.
Thau, Easy Rider for 16 years, and Rene, one of the original Easy Riders (an 18 year veteran).
At first we were turned off by the Easy Riders because they really pushed us hard to book a tour, and I guess we still weren’t used to the super-hard sell they do here in Vietnam. But Thau and Rene turned out to be great guys. I rode on the back of Thau’s brand-new motorbike; he had just purchased it the day before. He told me he saved up for years to buy the US$2000 bike.
Easy ridin’ with Thau.
Rene is a veteran of the Vietnam War, fighting with the Americans for the south. Thau went to military college and was therefore put into “re-education” (i.e., forced labor) camp after the North won the war. Both of them told us incredible stories about life during and after the Vietnam War, as well as the difficulty in adapting to Communism in the South.
Incidentally, this is kind of off-topic, but there is a still a huge rivalry in Vietnam between the north and the south, which makes a lot of sense given that people in the north grew up under Communist rule and people in the south are full-on capitalists. At the extremes, the north sees the south as frivolous, easy, and money-hungry while the south sees the north as uptight, unfriendly, and rigid. When I asked Thau about it, he said, “People in the North…they same same, but different.”
I find it interesting that there is still so much animosity between the north and the south, while Americans have largely been forgiven for their role in the war. In Saigon, Brian told us that before he moved to Vietnam, lingering hatred towards Americans was one of his primary concerns, but his fears were totally unfounded. If anything, the Vietnamese are fascinated with American culture, and look up to us as a commercial role-model.
These were the topics of conversation as Thau and Rene motored us through the countryside near Dalat, which made for an interesting and informational day. But let’s not forget that we are in Dalat, hmm?
Our first stop was at a place called “Dragon Temple,” and we soon understood why. In front of the temple, there is a giant 3-story dragon winding its way through the courtyard. This was also the site of the most amazing thing I have seen in all of our travels:
How AWESOME is this statue?!?! The fact that someone put a cigarette in his mouth is just perfection.
This temple was on the way out of town, and as soon as we got outside of Dalat, we were rewarded with gorgeous views of hillside farms. Because of its cooler climate, Dalat grows a lot of vegetables and ships them all over the country. This was a nice relief from the noodles-and-meat soup we had been eating throughout Vietnam thus far.
The Easy Riders took us on a tour of the local countryside industry. We visited a flower farm:
a coffee plantation:
a broom factory, where they dried local grasses and wound them together by hand:
and a silk factory, where we learned that silkworm cocoons are one enormously long strand of silk. To “harvest” the silk, a worker has to find the end of the strand and they stick it to one of these giant spindles, which unwinds the cocoon:
And just in case you were missing the kitschiness back in the town of Dalat, there was also the temple with a big, happy BLUE buddha statue…you could walk into his stomach and peer out his bellybutton. You know, they say the navel is the window to the soul.
We had a great time on our day out with the Easy Riders. They’ve got a great program…at each stop either Rene or Thau would get off their bikes and tell us some interesting tidbits about the site and their lives. We enjoy seeing how real Vietnamese people live their lives and we got a good taste of that out in the Dalat countryside.
Thanks for a great day, Rene and Thau!
Note: If you want to contact Rene or Thai for a tour, their contact info is as follows: Thau (0903.745672, firstname.lastname@example.org), and Rene (mobile: 0907.836299, home: 0633828485). We also met another nice Easy Rider named Tom (mobile: 0948830083, home: 063830624, email@example.com).