Dalat - Hilltribes, Rain and Giant Swan Boats
Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
165Trip End Ongoing
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One of Dalat's most famous institutions are the Easy Riders. After the war ended, those Vietnamese who fought for the south were often ostracized, or worse, by the local government and often had difficulty finding employment due to their misfortune of siding with the losing team. In Dalat, eventually a group of veterans decided to go into business themselves. Buying the most powerful motorcycles they could (still woefully underpowered by Western standards) and doing a little stitching on jackets, and viola, the Easy Riders were born. They specialized in taking tourists on the back of their motorcycles and giving in-depth tours of the surrounding countryside
The simple fact is there is little way to tell the original from the imitators. You simply pick the least annoying, or most persistent and let negotiations begin. And you will take a tour, even if it's just a day tour. You say you won't, but the chances are you will. These men on motorcycles will hunt you down. They will sit outside your hotel for hours waiting to ambush you ahead of the others, and even chide you for spending so much time inside your hotel when you could be out seeing the countryside with them.
Our Easy Rider was Buddha. His big belly (source of his name after the fat Chinese Buddha) was only matched by his seeming capacity to tell jokes, laugh, and negotiate all at the same time
The next morning we blearily made our way downstairs for an obscenely early 8:30 am start (in general, Danayi and I often do not even leave our hotel rooms until late morning or even early afternoon. Real life after this trip is going to be a bitch.) We were introduced to the other driver, and it quickly became very evident that he knew about as much English as I knew Vietnamese, maybe less. Realizing this would not make for stimulating dialogue while on the bike, I insisted Danayi go with Buddha and I would ride with his partner.
Our conversations were elegant in their simplicity. As we drove along, my driver might point at a clump of trees and say "Trees." I would answer "Trees. Yes, big trees." Five minutes later a dog would across the road in front of us, necessitating an emergency braking procedure
Eventually our guides pulled off on the road and into a small hill tribe village. These tribal people live sprinkled around the countryside in this area of Vietnam. Almost without exception these people live poor lives in distinct contrast to the relative wealth of the Vietnamese who have built hotels and restaurants and taken advantage of Dalat's relatively cool climate to create a honeymoon paradise.
Buddha claims to know the people of this village and walks us down the lane. Children quickly see and crowd around. Too afraid to approach, they lurk, giggle, or glower a few feet from us. It is apparently the one year anniversary of an important villager's death, and most of the adults in the community are either working in the hills or gathered in a local home for a deathday party. We walk around the village, distinctly alien visitors in a world where we are more exotic to the inhabitants than they are to us. After some makeshift attempts at conversation, we head back to the road and return to Dalat.
A couple days of rain, fog, souvenir shops, and countless attempts by old men to take us for rides were more than enough ready to leave. The next day we headed to Nah Trang.