And the Weasel Said, “Eat My Sh*t Enzo!”

The Easy Riders of Dalat are a group of motorcyclists/tour guides extraordinaire who take visitors to every corner of South Central Vietnam on the back of their bikes. Their home base is Dalat, a city 7 hours away from Ho Chi Minh City in the greater Central highlands. Dalat is a very popular tourist destination in south Vietnam for many reasons, but we came seeking the outdoor adventures and culture that the countryside has to offer. From forests, to mountains, to massive waterfalls and minority villages, this place has it all!

Our drivers Loc and Twanpicked us up at our hotel at 8:30am to get the day kicked off early-we had a lot to see & do! Loc was our leader-his energy, humor and the way he told each story was part of what made this day so outstanding.

Skott’s trusty driver Loc.

Shawna’s big strong driver…the biggest man we’ve seen in Vietnam so far!

Our first stop was the Linh Son Pagoda, a Buddhist Temple with a massive dragon statue circling its grounds. Loc explained to us that about 90% of Vietnamese people are Buddhists. This is a religion that Skott and I definitely want to research more while we’re here, but for the time being, we are uber impressed with their statues and always love the smiling Buddha.


Next we rode up to a summit to check out the agricultural farms in the valley. The Vietnamese have learned how to grow many, many vegetables in this area and it’s fun to see the patchwork quilt of lush green crops built in steps going up the hills. Loc clarified that some of the vegetables are mostly planted to sell: “We Vietnamese, we don’t like potatoe. We eat rice.” Makes sense…I believe they are profiting very well from America’s love for the french fry.

As we overlooked the land, Loc shared a story with us. At just 17 years old, he began serving alongside the American army during the Vietnam War (as most men in the South did). His job was to trek through the jungles to find the enemy and report back on their location. Then they had to run as fast as they could for the next hour to retreat as far from the location as possible before it was attacked. The aftermath of the War seems so real when you can hear the stories from those who experienced it firsthand.

Down the road, we made a stop to see one of the many flower farms. Apparently a Dutchie came here with the idea of growing all kinds of flowers-from roses to Gerber daisies to lilies. Once again, this area proved to be perfect for nurturing plants, producing flowers in every colour of the rainbow. It is now a very profitable business to have greenhouses full of exotic flowers to sell in the markets and ship abroad and the Dutchie is a very well respected (and rich!) man around here.

A Dalat greenhouse is overflowing with gerber daisies

Deeper into the countryside we traveled and found ourselves in a coffee plantation. The French had the brilliant idea of introducing coffee plants to this country. Then one day a Vietnamese coffee plantation worker noticed that underneath the plants there were many coffee berries lying on the ground. In fact, these berries were on their second life as they had previously been consumed by weasels or skunks and then pooped out. Our Vietnamese worker had an idea and decided to take the poo, roast it and make his own special blend of coffee. The idea caught on, people loved this “weasel coffee” and now these special beans are worth $30/kilo-the most expensive coffee in the world! Did we drink it….you bet!! Did we like it…yes! It was good and syrupy and had no hint of poo.

“Eat my sh*t,” said the weasel.

 

You guessed it…this is the poo

 

Not bad at all!

 

Rice wine in the making

As we left the coffee plantation we took a peek into another room where they were making rice wine. Loc let us smell a barrel of fermenting rice and it definitely had the aroma of a fine wine in the making. I was surprised to see that the rice liquid bubbles as it’s in the barrel…I guess from the yeast. Once it’s been sitting for a month or two, a boiling system is used to separate the rice from the wine, then the wine is cooled to stop the fermenting process. At this stage in the game, the wine is about 65% alcohol…so strong that it can actually be burned…so water is added before the concoction is complete. This didn’t stop Skott from sampling the wine in its pure form, but one small sip and he was convinced that he would be risking falling off another motorcycle if he indulged in even a thimble full.

Time to get out of there…so we carried on to the Elephant Waterfalls. This spectacular cascade gets its name from the rocky humps surrounding it that look like elephant’s backs. It was a little tricky to climb after the light shower of rain we got in the morning, but highly worth it to get an up close view.

Climbing the vines down for a closer look at Elephant Falls

 

Elephant Falls-the big bumps in front of the cascade were thought to look like elephant’s backs.


Our lunch stop was a smorgeous board of typical Vietnamese foods that Loc ordered up for us. There was so much food we had no idea where to start! We were each given a small bowl full of rice and then from watching others, we believe the idea is that you choose items off of the bigger plates, one at a time, and eat them over your bowl, with bites of rice as you go along. Amongst our spread was sweet and sour pork, stir fried beef with vegetables, fish in a clay hot pot, fried spring rolls, vegetable soup, sautéed spinach with garlic, fried chicken, fried egg and pork slices. Whew! We managed to get through it all with our chop sticks even if we did look fairly awkward at times.

Lunch with the boys!

With our bellies full, we hopped back on our bikes and went to see how silk is made. This was the highlight of the tour for me because I never would have imagined what an intricate process this is. Here’s my attempt at a readers digest version:

Silk worm cocoons-the size of Mini Eggs

1) After eating a ton of mulberry leaves (this is the only thing they will eat) a silk worm makes a cocoon out of an incredibly delicate thread.

2) One cocoon, which is just a bit bigger than a Cadbury Mini Egg, contains a silk thread that is approx. 1 mile long.

3) Sadly, our worm does not get to become a butterfly because once his cocoon is finished up he is immersed in boiling water in order to get the silk thread to loosen up.

4) Very talented Vietnamese women use chopsticks to sort through a trough of boiling cocoons to find the ends as they loosen. They catch them on a machine that essentially behaves like a spooling thread on a sewing machine.

5) About 10 of the tiny cocoon threads are spooled together to make one stronger thread that is then inserted into weaving machines to make silk material.

6) The left over larvae are eaten by some Vietnamese who claim it to be a tasty snack.

A silk worker sorts through the cocoons in boiling water and hooks the ends of the silk thread to the spinners.

 

Each of those tiny threads come from one cocoon…ten of these will be spun together to create one thread for weaving.

 

A silk loom weaving material

I have a whole new appreciation for silk material now!!

We had four last things to visit on our way back to Dalat. I still can’t believe we fit this into one day!

A mushroom tent

From silk, we moved on to see where mushrooms are grown. Many Asian dishes use a variety of mushrooms so the Vietnamese have developed a system to grow them in mass quantities. Inside of a large, dark tent, tubes of plastic filled with the sawdust from rubber trees are hung from the ceiling. A small piece of tapioca wood is inserted in the tubes to create a natural yeast. Small slits are cut in the plastic to allow mushrooms that look like grey fuzzy ear lobes to grow out. The fresh mushrooms are then laid out on racks in the sun to dry. Skott HATES mushrooms but even he found these tents pretty interesting.

Mushrooms growing inside the tent

Next up we took a turn onto a small dirt road and headed to a minority village called “Chicken Village”. There are many minority villages throughout Vietnam where the customs and language are very different. In this particular village, the women rule. They choose the husband and they run the show, including the family finances but they have to pay the huband’s father first-with 2 water buffalo, 10 ducks and 10 chickens. Sorry Rick…I guess I didn’t pay up for Skotty!

Loc called this photo “two hens and a cock”

 

Working hard in Chicken Village

The local Shell Station?

Lastly, we made a quick stop to a Buddhist Meditation Temple. The grounds of the temple were absolutely gorgeous and eventually led down to a lake. I’m sure a lot of people have found peace & enlightenment here.

Buddhist Monk

Needless to say…we loved our tour with the Dalat Easy Riders! For anyone traveling this way, we highly recommend getting out of the cities and seeing the amazing countryside of Vietnam.

We were as happy as this Buddha after our Easy Rider trip!

 

Need a hand? This Buddhist Goddess can probably help you out!

 

So many beautiful flowers in Dalat!

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5 Daredevil things to try if you’re Solo in Vietnam

You don’t have skydive out of a plane to be a daredevil. You don’t have to eat strange bugs or worms to be an adventurist. You don’t have to act all crazy and shout Whoo-Haa! like a Geronimo madman, to invite a little devilish thrill into your life. Sometimes, adventure and danger can fit into the simplest and most ordinary things; and if you’re a solo traveler, occasionally it’s the simplest things that can feel the most dangerous!

 

5 Daredevil Things to Try in Vietnam:

 

1. Cross a Vietnamese street.


Ready for a death wish? Offhand, crossing a Vietnamese street can like a feat for daredevils, but I assure you there’s a simple trick to it. Just go slow and with caution. Use the lady in the photo and video as an example. Do it with a group first and then you know what? When no one’s looking, try it on your own! 

Old food vendor lady crossing the street

Video of an old lady crossing the street and then of me crossing the street


2. Rent a motorbike to sightsee the city or countryside.


In Vietnam what else is there to do?Motorcycle madness (read my experience here) is in full swing as the culture’s predominant mule. Streets in larger cities like Hanoi and Saigon can feel stressful and manic; unless you’re an advanced driver,  why not start small? Rent a bike in one of the smaller towns or villages where you can enjoy easy motoring. There’s nothing like exploring a town’s map or local countryside on your own terms via motorbike.  Moreover, you feel at one with nature, free and need I say, empowered?For advanced riders seeking a cross-country trip: why not book a tour with Easy Riders. 20 years in the service of handling motorbike tours, I hear they’re pretty incredible!

 

3. Ride a xIClo

Hop aboard, take a one hour ride through the streets at the pace of Old Vietnam before the modern motorbike arrived. What’s so dangerous about riding in bike-pedaled pedicabs? Aside from breathing exhaust fumes, perhaps not much. But unfortunately, these age-old vehicles may be extinct soon. Due to the fact they add to the traffic problem in heavily touristy areas, Vietnam is closing in to ban them from operation.

 

4. Ride threesome on a motorbike taxi.


Motorcycles are Vietnam’s modern-day station wagon–  families toting babies and children (3-4 to a chair), two men moving a dresser bureau…! Why not experience what it’s like to be a Vietnamese family? Hire a motorbike taxi, step in  and have a laugh as you gain insight into what it’s like being a third wheel!


5. Eat the street food


“Avoid the  street food! ” people say; yet some travelers do it and live to tell its tale. Street food is a big part of local culture and the fast food preference of hungry Vietnamese. Cooked on the spot, you can cop a squat on a plastic foot stool and peruse through menus, ranging from a cardboard sign to a grease splattered one page carte du jour. While I can’t guarantee the food being better than restaurants or that practices are always sanitary, it offers front row ground-level seating to the popular local spectator sport of street watching!

 

What are some daring things you’d recommend for Vietnam?

Vietnam Easy Riders Groups

Firstly and most importantly – BEWARE of imitators!! On our 3 week trip in Vietnam we met so many people who claimed to be ‘Easy Rider‘ or tour agencies/hotels offering Easy Rider tours. Ignore them all unless you want a substandard trip, they attempt to copy the real easy riders by following the same route/stop offs. We bumped into a few other tourists on our trip who had been dropped off at the same point of interest but their socalled easy rider didn’t bother getting off the bike to give an explanation of whaImaget the place was about – leaving their passenger to bemusedly take random photos or hover in the background trying to pick up snippets of what our guide was saying!

So basically if you want a real authentic amazing experience – book direct with ‘Dalat Easy Rider Club‘. You can go to their office in Dalat (next to the poetry cafe) their website (www.easyrider-tours.com) or http://dalat-easyrider.com.vn or email the guides we had Thien and Hong (dalateasyriderclub@gmail.com) directly. They can do trips all over Vietnam but you need to give them at least a weeks notice if your starting point isn’t Dalat. Anyways onto the actual trip…

Guides – these are the people that really made our trip such a fantastic experience. Hoan and Lan both speak excellent English and their knowledge of the history of Vietnam plus their understanding of the way of life of people in the countryside/ethnic minorities makes it a really enriching experience. You will struggle to find a question on Vietnam they won’t be able to answer!

Route / Itinerary 
We did a 6 day trip from Dalat to Hoi An (originally a 3 day to Nha Trang but we decided to extend) We found the best part about this was actually not knowing exactly what we would be doing / seeing each day so I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone! Suffice to say you will see some stunning scenery and at the end of the trip I felt like we’d completed a degree on Vietnamese culture, history & life (not in a boring way) You really do get ‘off the beaten track’ – when we reached Hoi An it was abit strange to be surrounded by so many westerners again!

Motorbikes
These aren’t just your standard motos – they are proper bikes. We had 2 massive 20 kg suitcases plus numerous backpacks / bags which they put in waterproof bags and strapped safely to the bikes with plenty of room for you to sit. The great thing is they stop regularly en route so you have a chance to stretch your legs and stay comfortable. Also they don’t drive like maniacs!

Accommodation
We stayed in a hotel/guesthouse every night on our tour. All the rooms were of a good standard with en suite, hot water and aircon. Most of them also had TV and fridges

Food 
This was personally a highlight for me as I’d been a little bit disappointed with Vietnamese cuisine up until going on the tour. We ate all our lunches & dinners with our guides, they know exactly what is good to order in each place which makes life easy. They also make an effort to take you places where it is possible to try local delicacies (goats brains & blooding pudding!) Furthermore my girlfriend is vegetarian and she had no problem eating in these places.

Costs
As we are on a backpacker budget we were initially a bit concerned about the cost ($75 pp per day) however at the end of the trip we both agreed it was worth it without a doubt. These guys are with you everyday from morning to night. they are professional guides, not just moto drivers!
The rate includes all accommodation and entrance fees. Plus visiting the different local workshops / farms / minority villages we never felt obliged to buy or donate a thing (unlike a lot of other ‘cultural’ attractions in Asia) because our guides had a good relationship with them and looked after them.
You do have to pay for your food but they take you to local restaurants that are really cheap (not on commission!) On average we spent about 50k per person per meal. 

SO to summarise…just bloody do it! It was the best tour we did in the whole 12 months we have been travelling. But make sure you do it with the real Easy Riders!

James (25) and Jen (26) 
London, UK