This February, we spent a full week on a motorcycle adventure in Vietnam. We hired two guides (through Easy Riders Vietnam, based in Dalat) and set off to explore the Vietnamese Highlands and the coast from Hoi An to Hué together. We came back with over a thousand photos, which is why it’s taken us ages to go through them and select the best ones to share. We saw so much that it’s impossible to fit everything into one post, so here come the highlights of day 1!
We set off from Dalat, toured around the city a bit, and then took to the country roads to discover rural Vietnam.
The crazy house in Dalat. As a resident of Barcelona, I’d describe it as “like Gaudi on steroids”. Crazy house is an apt name. Very much enjoyed strolling through it and discovering hidden corners. You can actually sleep here, some rooms are set up as hotel rooms!
Dalat train station. It’s currently not functional, but there are talks about reviving the train route from the coast to Dalat. My highlight there was finding a train that was built in Esslingen, a mere 15 kilometers from where I was born.
And off we were, leaving the city and discovering the country side with our Easy Riders.
A buddha statue we visited on the way – I can’t remember where exactly it was!
We stopped at Elephant Falls for a short hike to the waterfall. Stunning!
Visiting a coffee farm
One of the highlights of day 1 of our motorcycle adventure was visiting a coffee farm. Not just any kind of coffee farm, but a weasel coffee one. Have you ever heard of Ca Phe Chon, or, as it’s more famously known in Indonesia, Kopi Luwak? If you haven’t heard of it, this is going to sound really strange: For this famous coffee, the farmers let Asian palm civets wander around the farm. The animals eat coffee beans, and excrete them half-fermented. The farmers pick up the droppings, clean them (thoroughly, I hope), dry them, roast them, and then sell the beans at crazy high prices. It’s considered a delicacy in large parts of Asia.
Views of the coffee farm from the visitor’s center
A Robusta type coffee plant with unripe flowers
The ripe beans… this is what the civets, or weasels, eat!
The Asian palm civet. The most expensive Kopi Luwak is made using wild civets, but most of this type of coffee in Vietnam is now produced with caged animals, it’s become quite industrialised.
Yup, that’s what you think it is.
…and here’s a close-up of the weasel poop.
After surviving our first cup of poop coffee, our lead guide Hung told us excitedly that our next stop would be a cricket farm. I knew we’d be eating local food for the week, but I wasn’t expecting to get thrown into the deep end like that!
Crunching on crispy crickets
So, next stop: a cricket farm. I hate having anything creepy-crawly in my apartment or hotel room, so I wasn’t sure this was going to go down well with me. Cricket farms are strange places. The crickets are bred in big open boxes filled with dried banana leaves, which the crickets use both for ‘housing’ and for food. Imagine the sound of several thousand crickets crawling over dried leaves… eek!
Thousands of crickets crawling over banana leaves. These were about mid-stage, close to final size but not quite yet.
These ones are ripe for picking… fully grown crickets, up close. I obviously didn’t take this picture, I did NOT want to get that close to them.
Just a mid afternoon snack… crispy fried crickets with sweet chili sauce!
Hanging out with our guide Hung, having crispy crickets and some strong rice whiskey to wash them down with!
Would you?? I tried one… and then actually ended up eating half the plate. Crispy crickets, it turns out, aren’t that bad.
Back on the road, enjoying incredible views of the highlands!
Happy Buddha, a massive buddha statue we visited on our way to Lak Lake. “Happy buddha” was also the expression we used for the rest of the week when we were super full after a meal.
Visiting a silk farm… and learning that not everything is as tasty as crickets
Because poop coffee and crispy crickets weren’t enough for a first day introduction to Vietnam motorcycle adventures, our trusted guides then proceeded to take us to a silk farm. You’ll see below why I think there was clearly strategy behind the order of the places we visited!
Innocent looking silkworms…
Silk worm cocoons
The cocoons up close, you can see the fine silk threads
In the factory, the cocoons are washed and then fed into big machines that will spin the threads together.
Strangely shaped cocoons (some of them are doubles, where two worms decided to out together) have to be spun by hand. This lady was so quick the camera didn’t quite catch it, but she was using chopsticks to handle the cocoons!
Here’s where things get sketchy. Our guides offered us a snack of silkworm larvae, steamed with lemongrass. I clearly wasn’t paying attention, because I didn’t notice neither of them were eating any of these themselves.
I’m still smiling as I’m posing with my silk worm… I was not smiling once I ate it. Silk worms, it turns out, are nowhere near as good as crickets. I can’t even describe the taste, but just the texture alone was weird. Ugh. Not recommendable.
Vietnam motorcycle adventure: the scenery en route
The scenery was stunning, every day of our trip. Day 1 was entirely in the highlands, sometimes riding along roads that were part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the war. Even though we visited in the dry season, it was very green – the highlands get more rain than the coastal area, even during dry season.
Intense green hills in the highlands, high above sea level.
We climbed up these insanely steep stairs to get the best view – it was worth it! And we worked off the calories from all the crickets we ate.
We stopped on a bridge over a large water reservoir…
The fisher families have built their houses directly on the water…
…and they sell their catch on the side of the road. Dried fish in plenty of different versions. We had some of the dried fish hanging there for dinner.
Green hills as far as the eye can see!
Pigs & Whiskey always go together
Another culinary detail we learned that day: Pigs and whiskey always go together. This little farm had a barn full of pigs, and outside the barn stood two big cauldrons. We learned that they make rice whiskey here, and then feed the pigs the fermented rice. The details are a bit fuzzy now… we did try some whiskey later that evening.
The cauldron for fermenting / brewing / distilling the whiskey
The pig barn
Our evening: Lots of food, some music and a bit of whiskey
It was an intense day. In total, I counted 21 stops that day. There are plenty of little sightseeing stops and short hikes I’ve had to cut out to keep this post under 30 photos.
In the evening, we got to Lak Lake where, as it was already dark, we dropped off our bags in the hotel and went straight to dinner, where we had a big feast of Vietnamese goodies – no insects this time.
Some lemongrass pork skewers from our dinner feast. I definitely prefer my lemongrass with pork rather than with silkworms.
A hill tribe ceremony demonstration we stumbled upon. It was being held for a group of tourists, but it was still a beautiful way to end the day, listening to their music, watching their dancing, and joining in the traditional whiskey drinking, where everyone drinks out of the same jug with the same giant straw.
Hill tribe musicians
So, that was just day one. More to come as I go through my thousands of photos… if you have a question in the meantime, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!