Exploring the countryside of Dalat

After an exhilarating day of canyoning, we were excited to see what else Dalat had to offer.  Our hostel offered a “Natural Countryside” tour which we were on the fence about, but we decided that we probably wouldn’t be able to get to all of the places it takes you to on our own, so we went for it.

At about 8am the van picked us up and we drove through the hills to the Van Thanh Flower Village, which spans over 500 acres and supplies flowers all over Vietnam.  Many different kinds of flowers are grown here, but about 2/3 of them are roses.

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Roses in the greenhouse
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Greenhouses in the Flower Village
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Greenhouses in the Flower Village

Next, we took a walk through the Lat minority village.  The leader of the village was very friendly and let us look inside and take pictures of his home.  We walked along the street and watched children playing rope games.  All of the people would wave and smile as we walked by.

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Lat minority village houses
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Inside a home in the Lat minority village
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Children playing in the Lat minority village

Next, we learned how rice wine is made and we got to try some. They make 3 different versions with different levels of alcohol: 60%, 50%, and 20% (“for Westerners.”)  We got to try the 50% and the 20% but they wouldn’t even let us try the 60%!

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Making rice wine
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Cooling the rice wine
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Jojo trying the 50% rice wine

They also had some pet monkeys, one of which was threat yawning back and forth with Jojo…

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We got back in the van after the wine tasting and headed to a silk worm factory which was simultaneously fascinating and disgusting.  We got to walk through the factory and watch the entire process from rearing the silkworms to the collection of the silk.

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Collecting the silk
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Women working in the silkworm factory
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Silkworms ready to have their silk collected
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Worms after all their silk has been collected

Our next stop was Elephant Falls.  We made our way down the slippery rocks with the aid of some rickety handrails, and got some really nice shots once we got to the bottom.

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Jojo in front of Elephant Falls
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Nicole at the bottom of Elephant Falls
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Jojo at the bottom of Elephant Falls

Next we visited the Linh Anh Thu Pagoda.  We removed our shoes before stepping inside and marveled at the interior.

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Dragon in front of the Linh Anh Thu Pagoda
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Jojo inside the Linh Anh Thu Pagoda

And we got to see the enormous Happy Buddha!

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Nicole in front of the Happy Buddha

We hopped back on the bus and headed for the Highlands Coffee Plantation.  Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee, after Brazil.  We walked around the plantation and compared the Robusta, Arabica, and Moka plants.

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Highlands Coffee Plantation
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Berries on a Robusta plant

Then we went inside where they keep the weasels to make weasel coffee!  The process is as follows: The weasel eats the coffee berries, the beans spend about a day and a half in its digestive tract, then they are defecated in clumps which the farmers collect, wash, and sell for brewing.

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Unwashed weasel coffee
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Sleeping weasel (notice clumps in background)

Naturally, we had to try some weasel coffee.  It was really, really strong but with a pleasant taste.

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Jojo trying weasel coffee

After the coffee plantation, we headed to the Dalat Railway Station.  Built in 1938, it is the oldest one in Vietnam.  Since its abandonment during the war, the railway is now only used for a 7km stretch to a nearby village, as a tourist attraction.

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Dalat Railway Station
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Inside the engine

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Our last stop of the tour was the architectural wonder of the Hang Nga Guesthouse, better known as “Crazy House,” designed and built by Vietnamese architect, Dang Viet Nga.

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Entrance to Crazy House

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With inspiration drawn from Antoni Gaudi, and elements reminiscent of Walt Disney and Salvador Dali, this is a fully operating guesthouse equipped with various animals, mushrooms, and stairways to nowhere.

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Stairway around the roofs of Crazy Hosue

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Each room has an animal theme connected to a nationality including a Kangaroo Room for Australia and an Eagle Room for USA.  Guests can book rooms starting at about $30 a night, and tourists can explore the guesthouse (including unoccupied rooms) for a fee of 40,000vnd.  The architect and her family live in the guesthouse as well.

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When we finally made it back to our hostel after a long day of touring the countryside of Dalat, we made our way down to the Night Market for another evening of leisurely exploration.  We also enjoyed a dinner of Vietnamese barbecue which we got to prepare ourselves over a small grill.

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Jojo preparing Vietnamese barbecue dinner

We felt a little shuffled around on the tour, but because we got to see so many things in a single day, we felt that it was well worth it.  Capped off by a delicious dinner at the Night Market, day two in Dalat did not disappoint!

Pastries: 87,000vnd ($4.07 USD)

Water: 10,000vnd ($0.47 USD)

Natural Countryside Tour: 560,000vnd ($26.21 USD)

Lunch: 140,000vnd ($6.55 USD)

Weasel Coffee: 60,000vnd ($2.81 USD)

Water: 10,000vnd ($0.47 USD)

Dinner: 200,000vnd ($9.36 USD)

1-Beer: 14,000vnd ($0.66 USD)

Accommodation: 210,000vnd ($9.83 USD)

Total Spent: 1,291,000vnd ($60.43 USD)

“Don’t Be Lazy, Be Crazy!” – Rappelling, Free Jumping, and Water Sliding the Datanla Waterfall

We were getting picked up from our hostel at 8am so we had to be ready by 7:30.  We got up and went for breakfast at the bakery and got some kind of pastries with chicken, cheese, and vegetables on top.

The bus came and got us along with about 10 other backpackers destined for a canyoning (aka wet rappelling/abseiling) adventure at the Datanla Waterfall.  It was the first thing we wanted to do in Dalat and we had never done it before, so we were beyond excited!

When we finally arrived, our guide gave us a brief lesson on the basics of rappelling, and we each had to practice walking and jumping backward down a small hill.  After two practices each, we headed toward the falls for our first attempt at dry rappelling.

After feeding the rope through and leaning back until we were at a 90 degree angle with the rock face, we began inching our way down the 60ft wall.  About 1/3 of the way down, the guide would yell, “1,2,3…JUUUUUUUUMP!!!” at which point we would loosen our grip and jump down the wall, then tighten our grip on the rope each time we made contact with the rock.

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Once we got to the end of the rope, it was a gentle drop into the water, where we swam to the steps to move on to the next stop: a 10 foot free jump and a natural waterslide.  We laid down on our backs and slid head first down the falls and were dumped into the water at the end.  We had to hold our elbows in tightly and relax our bodies so we didn’t get banged up too badly, though it was still a little painful and we got choked out by all the rushing water!

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Then it was time for our second attempt at dry rappelling.  This one was a little over 50 feet, but a little more challenging than the first one.  We had gotten more comfortable with the jumping so we tried some bigger ones this time.  Once we got over the ledge, everyone started shouting “KIIIIISSSSSSS!”  So we have this dorky picture now. 😛

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Then we were off to the next waterslide. We got to go feet first this time, but it was really fast!  And kind of painful again!  But really fun, also. 🙂  We were advised to hold our noses this time which was a good thing because we were under pretty intense rushing water for most of the slide.10926379_592978207499431_3799331137266201720_n

Now it was time for the real challenge: wet rappelling down an 82 foot waterfall.  We were feeling lucky and decided to volunteer to go first.  The rocks were really slick and it was easy to lose your footing because of the rushing water.  I actually fell down near the top, but I was able to get back on my feet and continue the descent unscathed.

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We didn’t realize how well we did until we watched the rest of the group make their way down.  An Aussie girl was reduced to sobs, an Israeli guy fell and smacked his face on the rock, and an English girl was paralyzed with fear about half way through and ended up slipping and falling from about 30 feet up.  Luckily there were no serious injuries, but I don’t think anyone was expecting this level of difficulty for their first time canyoning!

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The face of the rock ended about 15 feet from the bottom, so once we got down to that point, we had to let go of the rope and fall on our backs into the water!

Once everyone stopped crying and shaking in fear, we moved on to the next free jump.  This one had two options, a 36-foot jump or a 23-foot jump.  Jojo jumped at the opportunity to be the first one off the 36-footer.  This one was even more intense because you had to get a running start in order to clear the rocks.

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Then we did the 23-footer together!  Hitting the water was a little bit painful and I think it was my first time experiencing the “which way is up” sensation while struggling to get back to the surface.1513777_592981284165790_3609974973952217638_n

Our last destination was the 53-foot rappel, affectionately called “The Washing Machine.”  After about half way down, the rock face ends and we had to descend, on the rope alone, into the rushing falls that violently spun us around (hence the name) before being dumped into the water.  One girl lost a shoe!

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Our first time canyoning was a great success and will probably end up being a big highlight of the trip.  Just another reason why we loved Dalat so much!  We also met some great people which is always a bonus.10920948_592974914166427_812365162820510845_n

We got back to the hostel around 3pm and spent the rest of the evening hanging out in the city, getting dinner at the Night Market, and enjoying a couple Bia Saigons.  This was definitely our favorite activity in Vietnam (and a great deal!) and we were glad to have added another adventure sport to our list of hobbies.  Definitely a must-try if the chance arises!

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Pastries: 37,000vnd ($1.73 USD)

Canyoning: 840,000vnd ($39.28 USD)

Dinner: 50,000vnd ($2.34 USD)

2 Beers: 28,000vnd ($1.31 USD)

Water: 10,000vnd ($0.47 USD)

Accommodation: 210,000vnd ($9.82 USD)

Total Spent: 1,175,000 ($54.94 USD)

Falling in Love with Dalat – Our New Favorite City

We got up at the crack of dawn in Mui Ne in order to catch the 7:30 bus to Dalat.  Originally, we figured we would just catch a taxi back to the bus stop (Sinh Tourist) , only to find that there were no taxis in sight as we walked down the road.  As we walked in the general direction of the bus stop in hopes that one would show, a random local bus pulled up, asked where we were going, and told us to jump in.  It cost us 9,000vnd ($0.42 USD) each to get to the bus stop, and we were very grateful for it, considering we didn’t see any taxis on our way there.

Once there, we had a couple banh mi for breakfast and waited for the bus.  The bus that came was mid-sized; smaller than the large sleeper buses, but bigger (and less hellish) than the janky one we were on from Can Tho.  The drive was 5.5 hours of bumps and hairpin turns as we ascended into the gorgeous Central Highlands region of Vietnam.

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We stopped to enjoy the scenery about halfway between Mui Ne and Dalat

We were dropped off in the middle of town, at the doorstep of the Dalat Central Hostel.  We still do not know if this is just where the bus stops in Dalat or if the hostel has some kind of arrangement with the bus company, but we were offered a private room for $10 as soon as we set foot off the bus.  The room was nicer and cheaper than any other room we had stayed in thus far in the trip, and it couldn’t have been more convenient, so we decided to go for it.  Note: We had an excellent time staying here and highly recommend it.  The staff is great, speak very good English, and are extremely helpful!

The receptionist recommended a bakery down the street, so we decided to try it out for lunch.  The bakery is on the ground floor, and there is a restaurant attached on the second floor.  The food at the restaurant was nothing special, but the bakery is huge, cheap, and offers a plethora of unusual baked goods.  We picked out several that looked interesting and took them with us to enjoy next to the large and beautiful Xuan Huong Lake in the center of town.

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After going for a long walk around the lake and stopping back in the room for a little relaxation time, we headed back out into the city to visit the Dalat Night Market.  Here, you can find all sorts of street food, clothing, and crafts and on Saturdays and Sundays, they block off the street to turn it into a Walking Town.

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After we had gotten some street food and sat down on the steps to eat, we heard a commotion down in the market.  We looked down and saw people running and frantically stacking up the chairs and tables they had set out for patrons, as if to hide the fact that they were selling food there.  Presumably this was because of the police car driving by, but we were unable to figure out what exactly the issue was.  Once the police car drove off, everything returned to normal, though we were admittedly a little bit rattled by the event!

Dalat had already become our favorite city in Vietnam, that we had visited thus far in our journey.  The mountain air, friendly atmosphere and promise of adventure had us reeling to spend several days here, not to mention our lovely hostel staff and all the delicious, cheap food.  The city of Dalat had officially put itself on our list of potential future homes.

Minibus to Can Tho bus station: 18,000vnd ($0.84 USD)

Breakfast: 60,000vnd ($2.80 USD)

Bus to Dalat: 238,000vnd ($11.10 USD)

Lunch: 108,000vnd ($5.04 USD)

Pastries: 75,000vnd ($3.50 USD)

Dinner: 40,000vnd ($1.87 USD)

Beer: 14,000vnd ($0.65 USD)

Water: 10,000vnd ($0.47 USD)

Accommodation: 214,362vnd ($10.00 USD)

Total Spent: 777,362vnd ($36.26 USD)