Easy riding around the central highlands

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
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Trip End Nov 30, 2009


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Monday, December 5, 2005

The Easy Riders crew is a team of sixty or so motor bike riders that offer tours around Dalat and beyond on their larger than usual motorbikes (well, larger than the standard Vietnamese moped anyway). Originally bikes were either Russian or East German made, but reliability was an issue so most have migrated to 150-250cc Japanese or Taiwanese manufactured machines.

It's an institution these days so most foreigners who visit take a tour, and many adopt their Easy Rider for a few extra days to get them further afield to places like Nha Trang, Hoi An or Mui Ne. We took an extended Dalat tour and were very pleased with the territory covered and the interesting sights, village life and cottage industries we were able to see.



First stop after a cruise around the central lake in Dalat was the old train station, a distinctive building that once connected Dalat with the coast until the rail line was bombed in the war. The old Soviet rolling stock was interesting to see in the yard (some of which still chugs down the line around 7km for tour groups) and the bonsai garden out front was also good to view.



The Dragon Pagoda was next on the agenda. This is a fairly typical of worship with some unusual landscaping and sculpture outside. The large and brightly coloured dragon had to be about 20 metres in length, weaving his way around the garden to the left of the temple. Some of his friends, also brightly coloured, and a small monk looking remarkably like an orange smurf were also hanging around for the photo opportunity. On the temple's right was a 'birth of Buddha' landscape, showing a newly minted Buddha walking across a series of Lotus Buds, with converts and disciples praying at his feet. The result was all very colourful and it's amazing what Buddhists will construct to cleanse themselves of recent sins in the hope of a better next life.



Into the higher mountains we ventured, stopping along the way to see locals harvesting special plants for the making of brooms and also to view one of the New Economic Zones set up by the Communist Government to improve conditions and incomes in some of these more marginal, central areas of the country. This town of thousands was not here 20 years ago, with many of the new residents trucked in from the north of Vietnam - much to the consternation of local southerners. Still, the party has its way always and here the new town is.

A blast from the past came in the form of a silkworm farm. I remember my sister cultivating these little guys when I was a kid but this is on a much grander scale. Thousands of worms are bred in huge frames until they form their cocoons in the hope of turning into butterflies. Alas that's not to be for these guys who end up slowly boiled in their cocoons before being unwrapped and disposed of in a silk harvesting factory down the road.



The highlight of the day was a visit to the Elephant Falls. So named because of the large tusk-resembling rock formations that have peeled from the cliff face over the eons and now sit, moss covered at the base of the falls (see above left), these are the most impressive waterfalls I have seen on this trip which was a welcome surprise.



The falls could be viewed from a variety of angles and you could also worm your way between the rocks to get under the torrent of water pouring over the cliff face. We didn't hang there too long because large clouds of misty vapour drenched everything in short order, so we retreated for a local lunch next to a big blue laughing Buddha (also a first for this trip - the 'laughing' bit at least). Top class.

Sated on local delicacies like pork spring rolls and mini eggplants, we set off again and took in some cottage industries like the silk processing factory as well as some coffee, flower and mushroom farms, before heading back to the hills and toward home. Up the mountain we stopped to check out some guys cutting granite bricks out of large stones in the hillside - hard but lucrative work apparently ($US0.25 a brick at a rate of 150 bricks a day, not bad here). Cruising on the bikes in the hills was invigorating, although my guy was occasionally a little lead-footed which was a touch disconcerting.



Our final stop was back in town, another highlight of the day and something quite difficult to describe. The 'Crazy House' is a local female architect's concept home, very much in the gaudy style of construction. Now a hotel, this half horror house, half trip down the looking glass is a mish mash of bent stairways and mangled rooms within two defined buildings. Construction is ongoing subject to funding and at $US30-55 per night, it might take them a little while longer to fund it - especially as the tourist attraction opens at 7am making for a very early sleep in and check out!



Each of the rooms has an theme, such as the 'Land Eagle room', the 'Kangaroo room' or the 'Honeymoon room'. The gardens adjacent to the buildings also feature definite Alice in Wonderland stylings like giant cobwebs made of wire, large mushrooms and moss covered picnic settings. All very unique and extremely twisted in design - certainly a very different place to stay and if you can cope with the early start (or the gawping tourists if you sleep in), it may just be an option.

And that ended our day. It was good despite being a little uncomfortable, but I wouldn't do a longer trip with them. Easy Riders is an expensive option for touring - $US12 to 18 a day and for extended tours to faraway destinations (2 to 6 days in duration) it is up to $US50 a day depending on your ability and desire to negotiate. Some have pretty good English levels, and apparently a handful speak other languages like French or German. If they don't approach you, find them hanging out in the Peace Cafe, next to the hotel of the same name.

For our onward trip to Nha Trang, Marjorie, Jasper and I opted to ride the hard way - on mountain bikes. That was an adventure in itself so check the next entry for this particular torture and its aftermath...

Words from the Wise #41

"Travel is fateful to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."

Mark Twain
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