As soon as I got to Vietnam I was already looking forward to something different from the typical bus tours and day trips. Saigon was fun but it was lacking something. I wanted to get out of the city as soon as possible. After two days, I got on a bus and headed north to Da Lat, a tiny city in the Central Highlands. I found Da Lat to be quiet and kind of quirky in a European sense, it didn’t seem very Vietnamese at all.
I liked walking the windy roads and getting lost, and I soon found myself chatting with a motorcycle guide about doing a tour. Da Lat is well known as a base for doing an Easy Rider tour because of its close proximity to the mountains of central Vietnam. You can take a tour for just one day or as long as ten and travel to multiple places throughout Vietnam. I knew that the next stop for me was going to be the beach town a few hours away and I didn’t want to miss out on the scenery while sitting inside a bus.
The guide who I chatted with was an older gentleman donning a bright blue members only type jacket with “Dalat Easy Riders Club” emblazoned on the back. He was the real deal. He showed me book after book of handwritten testimony from past customers who raved about him and their tour. It was going to be pricey but it was going to be unforgettable (I hoped). I excitedly signed up for a 3 day 2 night tour and early the next morning my guide, Lok, arrived to pick me up for our adventure.
Day 1: Da Lat to Lak Lake
I was apprehensive about being on the back of a motorcycle, they scare me and driving on cliff-side roads gives me anxiety. But Lok was a pro, he had been doing this for over 20 years I would find out later, and he made me feel safe almost immediately. We drove out of Da La city and into the countryside, where the hill and mountainsides are covered in crops more common to Europe than Southeast Asia.
Thanks to the cooler climate and the French colonization, the Da Lat area grows vastly different crops than the rest of Vietnam. Pine trees grow alongside palms and coffee plantations neighbor strawberry farms. The cool air and the smell of pines reminded me of Fall in New Jersey and immediately turned me into one of the Highland biggest fans.
We zig-zagged over mountains and across small towns. Every so often, Lok would pull over saying “okay, you get off here”, and show me various crops and farms and teach me about the Vietnamese farming culture. We saw farms of curry, black pepper, coffee, indigo, and rubber trees. We walked the property of a family owned farm to see the coffee, rice, and pigs that they depended on for income.
Every single household in this region had turned their front lawn into a micro farm of some sort. The boxy cement houses were surrounded by stalks of corn or pepper, coffee trees, and other plants. If they didn’t grow their own crops, the house paired to another type of industry, whether it was brick making or making rice noodles and drying them in the sun. I was not surprised to read that the ancient Vietnamese were some of the earliest farmers. Although the French brought various crops and modern advancements, the people have always worked and lived off their land.
The weather was my definition of perfection: clear blue skies, and cool enough that I was comfortable in long sleeves on the motorcycle. I was thankful not to be under the hot roasting sun that I’ve come to know in this part of the world. The end of the first day brought us to a small lakeside town named “Lak Lake”. We arrived at the guesthouse just in time to walk down the road to the lake and catch the sunset. Local kids were hanging out by the lake; this was Friday night, after all. I watched the sun go down over the quiet lake, with the Annamite Mountains in the distance.
A group of teenage girls came walking down the road, and one of them asked if she can talk with me and practice her English. I invited them to join me and learned the girl’s name was Vy. She was 17 years old, a high school student and volleyball player in Lak Lake. I chatted with her for a while, and Vy old me how she loved the quietness of the lakeside town she calls home. We said our goodbyes eventually and I made my way back to the guesthouse, ready to start another day exploring the magnificent countryside.