Saturday September 19, we drive five hours , 4500 feet, up the mountains to Da Lat, a community originally built by the French in an effort to escape the heat of the low lands. Along the way we stop at a village of river fisherman that speak a different dialect of Vietnamese thus our guide is not able to understand their language. I see my first pot belly pig other then the one used for shark bait by the sea fisherman yesterday. A local fisherman is net fishing in the river and catches a fish no bigger then a minnow which he puts on a stringer. Now that I think about it I did see fish that small for sale in some of the markets.
A the top of the mountain we stopped to see a waterfall and received a promise of cooler weather for the next several days. On our way up we came across Chinese construction companies widening the road, when we were down at China Beach we saw that most of the resort construction was being done by Chinese companies and the new casino in Laos was being built by a Chinese company. It appears that all the money that we are sending to China is being spread around other developing economies. We are seeing the many different part of Vietnam and it’s culture as well as the tentacles of the next economic power of the world.
As we neared Da Lat the landscape changed from corn and tobacco farming to hillsides covered with greenhouses filled with vegetables and flowers.
Tonight we had a home hosted dinner; we were met in the hotel lobby by a bubbly Vietnam girl in a pink motor cycle helmet. She put the six of us in a van and told us she would meet us at her home. The cab drive wound through the streets of Dalat and we came to a stop in front of the 19 Family Home. Yee, pink helmet, introduced us to her mother, father, two younger sisters, Tea and Bond, and her cousin Bao, a young man. This was the beginning of one of the most delightful evenings of our trip. Mom, Tuan, and Dad, Lien, cooked the meal while Yee, and her younger sister, Tea, served us. We started with home made banana wine, sweet, smooth and it didn’t stop coming. The main course was a rice pancake filled with shrimp, bean sprouts, and herbs. We submerged this in a sweet sauce and topped it with lettuce, basil, tarragon, mint and other herbs. It was delicious and different from anything that we had had thus far on our trip.
Yee is the most dynamic Asian girl that I have ever met, her personality grew as the evening continued. I asked her if she was married, she’s thirty years old. “No she was not” Would you be interested in marrying an American boy? “It would be my pleasure.” Her younger sister Tea is dating a French boy with hopes of a future together. He came from France to develop a wine industry in Vietnam.
I made a commitment that I would do what I could to let as many available American boys know of Yee’s availability. She can be contacted at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org, you’ll find her picture on my Picasa Album http://picasaweb.google.com/kjohng/AsianTrip2009#. Yee’s 30 years old works for a consulting company in Da Lat, Vietnam and comes from one of Da Lat’s leading families. This is a must see.
Our Sunday adventure started early. Seven of us caught an old chug train for a 30 minute ride through the country side to Chua Tinh Quang. It gave us an up close view of the greenhouse operations of the area. Da Lat grows and exports vegetables, fruits, and flowers thus employing many of the residents. Because of the altitude the weather is cooler and less humidity, thus providing us with a welcome break form the draining weather that we have been enduring the past several weeks. In Chua Tinh Quang we found a bustling country town where no one was able to speak English to assist us in finding the Broken Bottle Pagoda. Finally we found a young girl who understood the word Pagoda and pointed us in the right direction. The Broken Bottle Pagoda consisted of a temple overseen by monks, one of which was an 83 year old man who spoke perfect English and invited us in to take pictures and worship. The Pagoda was a six story tower that allowed us the ability to climb the narrow steps to get panoramic pictures of the terraced landscape. Having overstayed our time we hurried back to the train for our return trip to Da Lat. Da Lat is a major travel destination for Japanese golfers because of its beautiful golf course, so our next stop was the Grand Palace Golf Course for a relaxing time in the highly manicured surroundings.
We then made a stop at the local Botanical Gardens, admission 10 Dong or 66 cents. Although cheap it didn’t stand up well against the Golf course and the local farms that we saw from the train ride. We then took a 2 mile hike around the city lake to the Sunday Market, my pictures tell that story best.
After a great lunch at the An Quy resturant we went to see the Hotel Soffitel the major high end promoter of tourism in the area. The hotel reflects the heavy French colonial influence seen in all of the architecture of Da Lat. The hotel was a photographers playground with its elegant furnishings and appointments, it even offered me an antique urnal shot which is always one of my photographic objectives in our worlds travels.
We met us with the rest of our group at 3:15 for a visit to Da Lat University. After a lecture from one of the Universities Language professors, monthly salary $200, we were assigned a student to escort us around the campus giving us an opportunity to learn more about Vietnamese life and them an opportunity to practice their English. I met up with Thuy, a 19 year old farm girl from a neighboring providence. She is a sophomore in the English program hoping to become an English teacher in her hometown high school. She rents an apartment in Da Lat with two other girls for $30 per month, her father sends her $10 share each month as well is able to pay the $200 per year tuition so that she may have a better life for herself. As we were completing our visit to the University Thuy shared with me that her assigned English name in the class room is Karry. I felt that karma had drought us together for this hours exchange of culture, we parted with two big hugs and an exchanged of email addresses so that we could continue our brief but meaningful friendship.
Back on our bus we headed out of town to spend some time with the people of the original Da Lat tribe.
While the predominate religion in Vietnam is Buddhism the Da Lat tribe are Catholics that have incorporated some of their tribal customs into their devout believe in Catholicism, to include the regular sacrifice of a buffalo at the alter. We didn’t arrive on a timely basis so as to participate in the sacrifice but we did enjoy a spirited demonstration of their native dance and music, to include group participation in both the singing and dance and the ceremonial communal drinking of rice wine through a bamboo straw from an earthen jug. We finished our long and eventful day with a dinner at a small restaurant which served traditional Vietnamese food including Hot Pot and a contribution of Crickets and Scorpions by David and Kim. Both were very fibrous and tasted like nuts.