On our second day in Da Lat, we booked a tour with a local company, and shortly after breakfast were picked up and headed out to the countryside for a full day tour. Our young, very enthusiastic tour guide was, as with our previous tour guides, in the tourist industry to practice his English. He was very knowledgeable and was a wonderful guide, delighting in telling us all about the crops, and industries of Da Lat. There were not quite enough seats on the bus, so we had to squeeze in, but by the end of the day we had all become quite friendly! There was a retired couple from the U.S., a student from London, England, a lawyer from Malaysia, an older professional couple from Ho Chi Minh, three sisters from Hanoi, a family of 4 and 2 young men who insisted on helping me down every slippery step, and rough walkway. It was very sweet.
We first visited the greenhouses to see the many kinds of flowers and vegetables grown in the Da Lat region. Flowers and produce are shipped all over Vietnam from here.
Coffee plantations on the hills of Da Lat region
From there we moved on to a coffee plantation. I was amazed to learn that Vietnam has grown to be one of largest producers of coffee in the world, second only to Brazil. The most fascinating thing about Vietnamese coffee is their production of what is known as ‘Weasel coffee”. The weasels, which are actually civet cats, look like a cross between a cat and a ring-tailed ferret. As it happens, civet cats are coffee connoisseurs. With their long noses, they sniff out and eat the best and fleshiest beans. Their digestive enzymes ferment the beans and break down the proteins.
Collected beans in civet cat poop!
These beans, harvested from the civet cat feces, create a coffee that tastes rich and slightly smoky with hints of chocolate. The beverage is known in Vietnamese as ca phe chon, or civet-cat coffee, and is also commonly produced in Indonesia and the Philippines. The coffee delivers a smooth, dark flavour that is stronger but, some say, less bitter than typical coffee. At specialised coffeeshops around the world, this coffee sells for around $30 a cup. Couldn’t quite bring myself to have a cup of coffee made from beans collected from civet cat poop, but I am told it is delicious!
Our next destination was a cricket farm. Crickets are raised and harvested in this area, and are washed, dried and packaged for sale as a snack throughout Vietnam.
Crickets served with hot sauce
This small family business harvests 20 kgs of crickets every month. Their main market is the restaurants of Da Lat and the surrounding region. After passing on the weasel coffee, the group I was travelling with was not going to let me dodge the crickets too. With a lot of encouragement, cajoling and some out right dares, I indulged. It’s amazing what you can eat if you put enough hot sauce on it! Actually, they were just fine, crunchy and a little nutty tasting. I do think however, that I got a leg stuck in my throat.
We all loaded back into the van and off we went to the silk worm factory. Production here starts at the very beginning, with the growing of the worms. Once they are mature they begin to spin their cocoons.
‘Unravelling’ the cocoons and spooling the silk threads
When the cocoons are complete they are harvested for the silk. They are placed in water and any that are not up to standard are removed from production. The factory was very noisy and I had difficulty keeping up with our guide and hearing the steps for harvesting the silk, but from what I could tell, workers begin by floating the cocoons in a trough of running water.
The cocoons soften and the silken threads of the cocoons begin to unravel. The threads were so fine I couldn’t see them, but the workers at these stations drew off a thread from each cocoon and attached it to a spooling system at the back of the trough. The cocoons bobbed in the water as they unravelled and the threads were collected on the spools. One small cocoon will yield 800-1,000 meters of silk thread! The larvae inside the cocoons are eventually revealed, and collected. They are also sold as a delicacy in city restaurants.
Silk being collected for weaving
The spools of raw thread are collected, and the silk is spooled onto larger wheels in preparation for weaving. The hands of the woman at this station moved so fast I could hardly see her tying off the spools (I tried to upload a video of this process, but unfortunately the file was too big).
Silk weaving machine
From here the silk is moved to a weaving machine and the fabric is made. All the power from these loud and seemingly archaic machines comes from the burning of the husks of the coffee beans from the plantation down the road. As in other aspects of Vietnamese life, nothing goes to waste. In the entrance to this factory were bolts of silk on display, in bright colours and beautiful patterns. It was astonishing to see the production in this small factory go from the actual silk worms themselves to beautiful silk fabrics. I am told that the silk fabric that is solid colours (no pattern) is of the highest quality and woven so tight, no pattern can be added.
After we left the silk factory, we visited the ‘Elephant Waterfall’. We were able to hike down to the base of the waterfall and enjoy the cool breeze and moist air. Near the waterfall is the Linh An Tu Temple. This was a beautiful, cool, and peaceful place. I could have stayed here all day. We lit some incense and enjoyed the serenity. Many of the Temples of Vietnam were build by the Chinese during their occupation of Vietnam, and the figures inside represent the ‘medium’ Gods as well as heros in Chinese history. The Pagodas on the other hand, are predominately Vietnamese and Khmer and are almost strictly Buddhist. The colours, and beauty of these temples and pagodas is unbelievable.
Behind the Linh An Tu Temple is the famous ‘Laughing Buddha’. Visitors are encouraged to rub the belly of the buddha for good luck. No easy feat as this Buddha statue is easily 20-25 feet tall.
Linh An Tu Temple
After leaving the Temple we all had lunch together and then headed back to the city to see some of the French build chalets that now function as hotels.
It was the perfect end to a perfect day. Our tour guide dropped us off and we waved good bye to our newly made friends. I strongly recommend small tour groups like this as you can visit and get to know each other, learning so much more about the local culture, people and life experiences.
The last comment I want to make is pertaining to a sign that was posted on every floor of the hotel we stayed in. This request regarding how to behave in the hotel is symbolic of the Vietnamese people. They are hard working, innovative, curious, joyful and kind. I was always treated with the utmost respect and genuine good will.
Sign in the Gold Nights Hotel