People compare Da Lat to the wine country of Southern France, and although I would not go quite this far it is beautiful and reminiscent of the wine country. Riding on the back of a motorbike is the best way to see it-there are few cars in the countryside, so your heart no longer jumps out of your chest every few seconds as a motorbike lunges at you. I almost wished I rode from Da Lat to Nha Truang, my next stop along the coast, but I was pretty nervous to be on a bike in the first place. I saw an accident on my way to Da Lat and a girl I met on the way to Hoi An recounted a horror story of a night bus hitting three bikers and killing at least two of them. At least I was on the open road in broad daylight.
It only takes about 5 minutes to get out of the city. Lush
terraced hills and farms make it the perfect day trip. In a few hours I went to a pepper farm, strawberry farm, flower farm, a rice wine making place, and finally, the family farm of my driver. See the album to the left for more pictures. You will see rice being fermented in large plastic barrels. The liquid is then cooked to a very high temperature where it becomes 100% proof or something ridiculous like that. Then it undergoes another process to be converted to 30% and tastes much better. In one picture, the alcohol is being light on fire (hard to see though). After the rice farm we made our way to the family coffee farm. On our way there, my driver told me we were going to his brother-in-law’s house.
We arrive at the house and a young woman in a pink tank top waves at us-almost as if she is expecting us. I wonder if he comes to his brother-in-laws house everyday. I thought he said he lived in the city but maybe he makes this drive a lot. We were about 2 hours away from the city at this point. He gives me a tour of the farm. They grow coffee, bananas, and passion fruit. He takes me over to some sugarcane growing around a big dirt hole which he says will eventually be a reservoir for their crops and peels a cane for me. We are both are biting the stalk, sucking out its sweetness, and spitting out the chewed pieces. We then have to put our fingers in our mouths to get the thick strings out of our teeth. I am looking at my dirty hands and thinking about the last time I washed them, but I am too caught up eating the sugarcane to stop for mere sanitary purposes. We start walking back to the house and I notice his brother-in-law working a little further up in the field.
When I went into the house I noticed that the picture over in the sitting area is of him with a lady who must be his wife. I thought it was a little strange that his picture would be there instead of his brother-in-laws and sister, but maybe their photo is in the bedroom. Or, perhaps you have pictures of your brother-in-law in your living room in Vietnamese culture? I am not sure but something does not feel right. On our way over to the house while we were drinking our orange sodas, he told me that his father had died recently. He had tears in his eyes. I said I was sorry. He showed me pictures of his father and said that he had been an easy rider. In the photos, his father definitely looked like an easy rider wearing a leather jacket with his bike behind him posing with some foreigners. All of a sudden two people drive up to the house. He says his mother is here and I notice the man in front looks exactly like his father! I say, “that man looks just like your father” and give him my best questioning look. He sheepishly replies, “yeah, that’s my father.” His sister-in-law or whoever this nice young lady is now bringing me another delicious passion juice and it is so good I really do not know how to refuse although I am praying that the water is purified. I think I can see a bottle in the back so it must be, right? She is offering me candies and sweets and she is being so crazy nice to me I am starting to feel very embarrassed. The two strangers then come into the house. They can’t speak any English, but no one seems to mind that a strange looking person is in the room. In fact, I think they might even be excited I am here! I am now thinking that his family are all farmers and that the whole story about his father being an easy rider was just a tall tale to help him get a bigger tip at the end. I am really not sure what is going on, but this farm is nice and these people seem harmless and I really like this passion fruit juice. “I hope it isn’t poisoned,” I think. We all sit down and start trying to communicate. Before I know it the girl is taking out model-type photographs of herself, and I am sitting there telling her she is really pretty and eating more candies than I think I should since I think they must be expensive and then I ask to take a picture of us. The driver tells me he can’t take me to the other places he told me he was going to since we have run out of time. I say okay, and we get up to leave. The girl is waving like crazy looking very sad that I am leaving and I am waving and waving and saying thank you a lot and then we take off. Even though I see a lot of good photo opportunities I prefer to keep moving and we drive all the way back to the city without stopping. I give him his money and he looks relieved. As I suspected, he is not an easy rider at all. I think he is trying to become an easy rider, but his English is not good enough yet. So, he is very happy I have paid him and we say good-bye on good terms. I am thrilled that I got to see the “wine country” and a real Vietnamese farm! I still don’t understand why he told me the story about his dad and then took me to his parents house, but I feel lucky to have had such an authentic experience and be back safely.