Yup, a very full day. We started early in the morning with a big breakfast at the hotel. Right on time our guide Duong (who I had mountain biked with the day earlier) showed up with his girlfriend, a 4x4 and a driver. First stop on the way out of Dalat – a flower grow-op.
There are greenhouses all over the place once you get outside Dalat. Everything from orchids to, well, uhmmm, other kinds of flowers (I’m not really a green thumb kinda guy). We just basically pulled over on the side of the road and Duong asked the workers inside the greenhouse if we could take a look around. We had only been in there a couple of minutes when the workers handed both boys some flowers. The boys were pretty happy about that, until they learned that flowers also make for some pretty good lightsaber material. The first morning after we arrived in Dalat, Doreen went for a run and came back with an armful of roses and orchids for the hotel room. Total cost was a touch over $1Cdn. In Canada the same flowers would have been worth 50 times that much.
Next stop was a silkworm grow-op with a little bit of coffee thrown in. There are quite a lot of these kinds of mixed produce family gardens. Apparently the family owns the land but pays taxes on it. This little family operation was growing banana, papaya, coffee, silkworms, fish and who knows what else on a very small plot of land; maybe not much more than one acre. You’re probably wondering why Keegan is wandering around demonstrating his bellybutton to the world. Well, that's because his shirt was hanging on the vehicle to dry off – after the banana vomit had been washed off in a creek (kudos to the driver for the scrubbing). It seems Keegan didn’t care for his breakfast bananas or the hairpin turns coming down the mountainsides. Doreen gave him a liberal sunscreen rub-down. As we approached the house we walked past the first coffee bushes of the day, I eyeballed some ripe coffee cherries and proceeded to eat some. Here's a photo of the coffee beans from a freshly chewed cherry and also the bush it came off.
The silkworms you see here are kept in large round woven baskets that are quite shallow. They are fed mulberry leaves (grown on the property) and once they are fat enough, are moved over to a hanging rack where they proceed to cocoon themselves in silk (this rack is empty with just some old clinger’s sticking around). Once the silkworm is fully cocooned they are stripped from the rack and moved to a silkworm processing factory, more on that in a minute. Pretty soon it was time to hop back in the 4x4 and head off to our next stop - a rice wine still.
That's right, moonshine - rice style. Another little family run venture but their focus was kicking out a lot of hooch. A pretty slick little operation… the cooked rice is fermented in these large clay vessels via the introduction of yeast. Once the fermentation process is complete (or in this case not really complete) the rice is cooked in the large cooking pot and the vapours are cooled down via piping and a cool water sleeve, then with a quick presto chango and you have some very harsh, throat-burning ricey sweet high-alcohol 'shine. Gotta say, nothing could really improve on that end product but apparently the family produces about 60 gallons a day.
Classic of Duong getting a taste of rice wine. Love this squat toilet photo, just check those walls out. Yikes, and that's all I'll say! Back into the 4x4 and we drove till we hit a mushroom factory. At the entrance they were sun-drying some coffee cherries, I squatted down to bite some in half to check out the beans. Keegan, of course, squatted down next to me and proceeded to try and do the same thing. For sure that kid is going to be roasting his own coffee before too long.
The mushroom factory is quite a concept. The mushrooms are grown in longhouses which are kept quite cool via watering. There is row upon row of plastic bags filled with sawdust and compost which have mushroom spores injected into them. The bags which have slits cut into them allow for the mushrooms (I think they are oyster mushrooms) to grow out the sides of the plastic bags. Wow.
Next stop was the silkworm processing factory. Here the silk cocoons are dropped into hot water and a line of silk is pulled off the cocoon then attached to a little pickup spindle which then proceeds to draw off more and more silk from the cocoon. The cocoons just spin around and around as they float on top of the water until they are finally unravelled. The silk is fed up into the machinery until it is coiled onto the large wheels at the top. The raw silk bales are shipped elsewhere to be processed by other weavers.
Some of the silk is retained at the processing factory and fed into a crazy contraption which uses punch cards strung together in an eternal loop that programs a silk weaving machine. To watch this machine and listen to it clatter and clack you know it belongs to a bygone era and yet it produced a great looking product. Doreen got a cool looking blueish colored pure silk scarf at the factory for just over $3Cdn. Nice deal.
Next stop was Elephant Falls, which is quite a large waterfall that took some rock scrambling to get down to a good spot for a photo. Some further scrambling got us right to the base of the falls and I took the extra steps to get under the falls which had a very powerful wind and almost took your breath away from the force of 2 million showerheads all blasting water just past your face. Ok, maybe it was 1 million, who knows but whatever it was I was completely soaked in about five seconds. Pretty cool.
Lunch was next on the agenda. We ate huge at a hole in the wall local restaurant about 20kms from Dalat; with some drinks and beers all five adults and two kids taken care of for $12Cdn. Sweet. Really enjoyed the barbecued meat and the pho had a nice spicy meatball and water spinach thing going on. With our bellies full it was off to the highlight of the day for the kids. Yeah, it was an elephant ride.
Balu the elephant was more than happy to take us for a 30min ride alongside a large picturesque lake shore. One of the funnier moments for me was having to explain the massive poops that Balu was dropping from a height of 15 feet just before we got on her. I explained it by saying these were presents from Balu. So as we ambled along atop of Balu, Evan pointed out all of Balu's presents as we approached them along the trail - "look daddy, there's more of Balu's presents". ;-)
The last stop for the day was a large Buddhist Meditation Pagoda on the outskirts of Dalat. The grounds were immaculate and the sense of balance, order and beauty was impactful. I could have taken photos there all day, there was just so much to shoot.
We got back to the hotel around supper time. The boys were done. We headed off to a nice restaurant called HNL Love Restaurant (pretty much right across from Dreams Hotel) which is highly recommended both for the food and particularly for the professional service.