After a few days of hastened city life, Ankur & I said goodbye to Saigon. We caught a sleeper bus heading north to the quaint mountain city of Da Lat and our eventual launching point of a motorbike tour through the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
On our first day in Da Lat, we learned about the multi-day motorbike tours from Mr. Vui, who is more commonly called Happy. I wondered why that was his name and soon realized it was because he had the most maniacal and infectious laugh I’ve heard. Happy told us about the tours which could end in a number of cities along the northern coast. Given that we were complete novices on the motorbike, the decision of going on a long tour was tough. We decided to give it a shot. The plan was to get a free lesson in Da Lat while visiting the sites, and if we were comfortable by the end of the day, we would embark on a 3-day tour through the Highlands and end it in the coastal city of Nha Trang.
My first lesson started right outside the cafe we were sitting in with Happy, a busy street mostly full with motorbikes and cars. Luckily, they were going slow as it was near a bend going uphill. After being shown all the controls and switches, Happy cranked the throttle and off I was into the street. The feeling was strange at first. Being used to a manual transmission, I was unexpectedly at ease shifting gears through the hills. But, at the same time I was going only a bit faster than I usually do on a bicycle, except I wasn’t getting tired. Our short day tour had begun…
Our first stop in Da Lat was one of the first train stations built in Vietnam during French colonization.
We next stopped at Linh Phoc Pagoda which was built from debris of glass, ceramic pottery, and porcelain between 1949 and 1952. After the pagoda, we went home feeling good about our 3-day journey beginning the next day.
Ankur, ready to roll. Going into the trip, we knew we were going to make a number of stops while also averaging close to 200 kilometers per day. But, what each of those stops were going to be ended up being a sequence of pleasant surprises.
Among the first was a coffee and tea farm in the Mê Linh Lake region.
One of their specialties was Weasel coffee which is actually consumed after it’s been digested by a weasel. The berries above were waiting to be eaten by the weasels curled up in the upper left corner.
After the beans have been “processed” and ready for human consumption.
The next stop was a silk factory where we witnessed silk worms eating, and further formed into cocoons.
A resulting pattern being made at the factory.
After riding some more, Elephant falls was our next stop.
Near the falls, a large banyan tree was growing fervently over the rocky terrain.
An approaching storm. As the first few drops fell, we parked at the side of the road, put on our ponchos, and were off again into the weather. I was reminded of the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. All of my senses were stimulated. It went beyond the sight of the red earth, green rice paddies, and dark skies. I could suddenly smell the iron-rich earth lifting with the heavy rain. The sound of children cycling by and greeting us with Hellos. The fresh mountain air blowing against my dirt-covered skin. And the taste of storm rain every time I laughed and opened my mouth. I felt a part of the surrounding environment and one with the journey itself.