Sometimes when things end up going wrong, or sideways, it all works out for the best. I really saw that in Vietnam. If our first tour operator hadn’t been a bit flaky, and instead we ended up with going with him, it would have been uncomfortable and probably not very enjoyable as I wasn’t feeling good that day. Instead, the wonderful lady at the hotel set up a private tour for us that was cheaper, and probably done by my favorite guide in Vietnam up to that point: Paul.
Paul was 70 years old and had been an officer in the war and had been on the American side. Paul ended up in a reeducation camp for two years. Once he got out he had to find another occupation, and eventually he and some other veterans created the Easy Riders travel company. Over the course of our day together Paul showed us a picture of himself as a soldier, as well as some videos his granddaughters made.
We started out at a family run coffee plantation, K’ho Coffee. We got to see the process from picking to roasting, and Sal got to sample some of the coffee. Sal gave it a big thumbs up and bought some to take home. They also brew tea from the coffee skins, which was interesting and tasted pretty good. And they had a Western toilet so it was all good in the hood.
From there we went to LangBiang Mountain to see some nice views. At the base of the mountain you have two options: hike up the mountain or take an old army jeep up for a small fee. It was a no-brainer and soon we joined four young Vietnamese people who also were jeeping it on up the mountain. Since I was the old lady I got to be in the front. I don’t know what I was expecting. It was steep in some parts, but nothing scary. They had weird stuff there, too, like a horse painted like a zebra. No pic of that. I was afraid they’d try to charge me.
We got to the top and one of the young ladies who spoke English let me know we were meeting again in 50 minutes. That’s sort of a long time there. The good news is after checking a couple locations I did actually find a Western toilet. Yes, people. Western toilets were very important to me! I figured if there were times I’d only find the squatty it would be when we were on a tour for the day, but so far so good! Anyway, enough about toilets. We had some lovely views on the mountain.
We met at the appointed time and I again scored the front seat. Paul was waiting for us in the parking lot and off we went, on our way to lunch. I told Paul how much I liked flowers, and he stopped at two greenhouses to show us an example of the sheer quantity of flowers grown. When I think back of Da Lat one of the first things I will think of is all of the flowers. There really were tons. They also grew a lot of strawberries there.
Paul asked if we were interested in eating at an authentic restaurant with him for 55K per person. That was less than $2.50 per person. Of course we were for it. And it was all delicious! I told Sal later that it was our Thanksgiving dinner, really.
We decided to go see Elephant Waterfalls next. Now I had read this place could be slippery and I was a little leery about it. I took some pics from the top, and then we started to descend through a couple flights of steep stairs with no handrail. Somehow I twisted my knee on one step and I realized there was no way I could go further; it really hurt. I sent Sal on with Paul, while I waited on a bench. Here is where I need to tell you just how agile Paul is: he’s more agile than someone almost 20 years younger. And according to Sal the next part of the hike was quite difficult and Paul treated it like it was no big deal. It was amazing! I saw them climbing back up to where I was eventually, and Paul wasn’t even out of breath! I said to him, “Oh my goodness you’re like some sort of animal! You could climb so easily!” He answered, “A monkey!”. Hahaha. He really was amazing.
There is a temple near the falls, and Paul took us there and spent some time telling us about Buddhism. I really appreciated it. After all these temples we’ve been to we’ve only learned a few things about it so it was interesting to go a bit deeper. Paul had us light some incense (he knew we didn’t believe and apparently that wasn’t a problem). I had no idea once I put my incense in the bowl that a monk was going to bang a gong, so when it happened it startled me and I thought Buddha himself was speaking to me. Sorta funny.
We went to a silk factory after the pagoda. Paul explained the whole process to us while the workers each worked on their particular process.
Our last stop on our tour was on top of a mountain at a monk’s monastery, Truc Lam temple. It was amazingly beautiful and peaceful, with gorgeous gardens. Paul said other travelers can stay there and help out, etc.. I actually think that would be appealing and tranquil. I think I would do it. Sal said the same thing. There was just something about the location and the atmosphere. We didn’t have a lot of time there because soon the monk’s were going to be going about their services, and they don’t do that with tourists walking around.
And that was our day with Paul. He was a most excellent guide.
Paul and our driver dropped us off at the Crazy House, which Sal and I went through ourselves as it was a little pricey. I really didn’t know what it was going to be and I still don’t really know how to explain it except to say there were various buildings with funky designs and lots of stairs. Lots. I actually climbed all the way up one of the buildings, so I was proud of myself.
By the time we’d explored a bit my knee was really hurting and we were supposed to go on a walking food tour. We decided to cancel. It had started to rain, so we stopped at a tiny store and had a beer purely for medicinal purposes.
We slowly walked back to the hotel and that was all she wrote. It was a long day, and a bit painful, but totally worth it.