From Ho Chi Minh City we took a bus to Da Lat in the central highlands. It was the summer retreat for the Emperor and the French when they had control of Vietnam, so I expected it to be cool and pleasant. Instead, on our first night there it was cold and wet.
The rain held off the next day, when we took a tour of the surrounding countryside. We were joined by three young women, two from Vietnam and one from the Philippines, who were on a team-building weekend from work. Our tour included a coffee plantation, where they grow arabica and moka on the hilltops. The coffee is superb. The real problem is that they also sell “weasel coffee”. They make this from coffee beans excreted by weasels which they keep confined in unacceptable conditions.
The animals are fed coffee for two months of the year on the ridiculous premise that the coffee so produced has a better flavour. As the price charged for this product is much higher than normal, it is unlikely that this practice will be discontinued.
We also saw raw silk being manufactured. I have seen silk weaving many times, but this was the process of rearing the caterpillars, placing the cocoons in hot water and unravelling them.
Just to let you know, I ate one of the caterpillars that are discarded from the cocoon. Nicer than grubs, locusts or crickets that I have also eaten on my travels. Insects could be a main source of protein for us in the future if we don’t mend our ways, so I’m prepared to try them out.
Ended up at the old train station in Da Lat. here’s a picture of the group with Halley on the right.
From Da Lat to Nha Trang on the coast was a marvellous trip by bus. At first you travel between plantations of rubber, corn, cassava and tall pines thrusting out of the red earth , then into the indigenous and impenetrable
forest cascading over mountain peaks, with the “South China Sea” glimpsed in the distance as you descend towards the shore.
Nha Trang has become a holiday destination for Russians and menus and tourist information is all in their language. There is a long expanse of beach, frequented as much by the locals as by the visitors. After a walk along the waterside the first day, Halley and I met up with a mutual friend, Rachel, to visit the Cham Towers at Po Nagar. This is perhaps the most mysterious site I have visited yet. The towers are made of brick and have been restored, but date from the eighth century.
Further up the coast lies Hoi An, now a World Heritage Site. By the river, the old town has been preserved and is a unique collection of houses, assembly halls, temples and workshops. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Hoi An was the international trading centre of Southern Vietnam and Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and Indians came to market and established their own quarters there.
At night the town is transformed by lantern-light, candles floating on the river and musicians on the streets.
I took this picture of a fruit and veg vendor on a street in the town outside the old complex, because it shows the richness of ordinary Vietnamese life in a simple way.
Hoi An is also noted for its tailoring trade. Halley needed a couple of things for her trip to the U.K., so I took the opportunity to have a light summer dress made-to-measure. It was a new experience for me and I am very pleased with the result.
I would have happily stayed a bit longer in Hoi An. People and children called hello from their homes. There were plenty of restaurants to choose from. There were things to see and do in the countryside around, most notably Tra Que herb and vegetable village, where you can help out in the organic gardens.
However, time was running out on the visa and there was still the old Imperial city, Hue, and Hanoi and the North to explore. Time to move on.
(N.B. WordPress has uploaded 2 sequences of photos in the wrong order; the silk worms and the Cham Towers. Can’t be bothered to go back and sort it out. Sorry).