My Easy Rider trip from Da Lat to Mui Ne is one of the coolest things I’ve done on my trip so far. By the end, I was exhausted and sunburnt, but I saw so many wonderful things
that I wouldn’t have seen had I not traveled this way. I saw everything from waterfalls to desert sand dunes; ocean beaches, secluded waterfalls, tribal villages; a mushroom farm, a coffee plantation, and I even got to pick my own fresh dragonfruit on a dragonfruit plantation. The view through the mountains was breathtaking, and my guide, Toe (I’m sure this isn’t the correct way to spell his name) taught me so many things about Vietnamese culture.
I woke up early and had breakfast while Toe strapped my backpack to the back of his bike. Our first stop was one of the famous temples in Da Lat (I know I’m being a brat, but I’m getting bored of temples. They’re lovely, but unless they’re decrepit and falling apart from being so old, I don’t have much interest) and a nearby lake.
He then explained the rest of the day’s itinerary to me before we took off to our next stop – the “Chicken Village.” The Chicken Village is by far the most rural place I’ve been in
Vietnam, and even the ride into the village was like going into a different world for me. In the center of the village, we got off the motorbike near a huge statue of a chicken and Toe told me the village’s story. Back before the Vietnam War, the tribe used to live up in the mountains (he pointed the spot out to me, and you can still see the treeless areas where their settlements were). During the war, the North Vietnamese forced all of the tribal people out of their mountain settlements and into the surrounding country where they still are.
Toe explained that there are over 200 tribes in the Da Lat highlands area – many even speak their own dialect (“They are smarter than me. They speak their tongue, my Vietnamese language, and your English
language all” – Toe). Men and women were forbidden to marry outside of their tribe until the Chicken Village’s sad story changed everyone’s mind – now, people can marry whoever they want, regardless of tribe.
After the Vietnam War, a man and woman from separate tribes fell in love. In Vietnam, it is the woman who asks the man’s family for permission to marry. The woman approached the family, who belonged to the tribe of the Chicken Village (I don’t know the actual tribe’s name), and asked their permission; on three different occasions, the family told her no. Finally, when she asked for a fourth time, the man’s father told her he would allow her to marry his son if she proved her love for him. He told her that his wife was dying, and they would need a sacred chicken to cure her. This was a common belief among tribal Vietnamese – chickens typically have three spurs on the back of their feet, but every so often you can find one with five. The rare extra spurs are what make them sacred and are supposed to bring good luck and health to whoever eats the chicken. The woman agreed, and set out into the mountains to search for a sacred chicken. She was out there for days and days – after over a week, the concerned families set up a search party to look for her. They found her in the forest having died from starvation/dehydration. It’s believed that she came across many chickens, but was determined to find the rarest, most sacred chicken to prove her love and died in the process.
After such a sad outcome, both families gathered people from many tribes to tell their story. Everyone agreed such a thing should never happen again – that no one should have to die to prove their love and love should be celebrated among all tribes equally. They built the giant chicken statue in her honor, as well as what Toe told me used to be a park right next to it. The park was meant to be a meeting place for young people to be able to spend time with people from different villages. The park was now abandoned and falling apart – Toe explained that now they all have cell phones and can just text each other to meet for coffee instead of going to the park (:
After hearing the story, Toe introduced me to a young tribal girl who made scarves. She showed me how she makes them, and told me about her life in the village. She was married at 16 years old, had her first child at 17, and now at 19 was married with 2 children. The scarf she was currently working on had taken her three days, and she proudly told me that she would be able to sell it for the equivalent of $2 because of all the detail she had put into it.
Our next stop was a mushroom farm. Toe drove me around all the different areas of the farm and explained the whole process to me. I can’t really remember much about it, other than it smelled really bad and it was insanely hot there.
After the mushroom farm, we drove through some
beautiful views of Da Lat and the surrounding countryside before stopping at the first waterfall of the day – Pongour Waterfall. Toe told me it was the more touristy of the two he would take me to, but wanted me to see it because of how large it was. It was quite a hike down, and I wasn’t surprised that he had told me to just meet him back at the parking lot when I was finished – I was also thankful that he wouldn’t have to watch me huffing, puffing, and sweating my way back up the steep stairs.
When I finally made it down to the waterfall, it was breathtaking. Not only was the waterfall huge, but it was in a beautiful rocky valley with beautiful green trees that looked like they were definitely thriving in the rainy season. Toe was right, though, there were tons of people and I found it harder to enjoy with so many around.. But I did manage to get some great pictures and enjoy the cool mist from the falls!
After we left the waterfall, we went through some more countryside and beautiful mountain views before Toe pulled off to the side of the road in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. He told me to follow him and we walked into a huge field of trees. When the road was out of view and I could see nothing but row after row of trees, he picked the tiny fruit off of one and held it out for me to see – coffee beans! He explained the different types of coffee harvested in Vietnam (mainly robusta and arabica) and why certain areas of the country were the ideal climate for coffee plantations. Something that really surprised me is that Vietnam is actually the second largest coffee exporter in the world, second only to Brazil. I would have never guessed! I asked him to take some pictures of me because I was so excited to have come “full circle” (haha) – from working with coffee in college to standing in a coffee plantation in the second largest exporter in the world. I of course looked like a goofball – didn’t help that I was wearing my SUPER COOL green suede high-top Nikes and a banana shirt. At one point, Toe went over to a tree to pick the fruit to show me the difference in the types of beans, and all of a sudden I heard the funniest shriek as he jumped and scurried (seriously, the most accurate adjective for what he did) away from the tree. Apparently something had moved and he thought it was an animal… I’ve never heard such a big grown man shriek like such a little girl!
After the coffee plantation, we wound our way back down to a small town to stop for lunch. Toe told me a little bit about himself – he was born and raised in Da Lat and had two daughters that are my age. One, he said, was 25 and married with her own children; the other is 27 and is always jumping from one adventure to the next – he says he thinks he only made one daughter that will give him grandchildren. RELATABLE haha.
After lunch, we went to the second waterfall – Bao Dai Waterfall. Bao Dai is Toe’s favorite waterfall that he’s ever seen, and he used to love to take his daughters there when they were younger. He told me to be careful walking down to the base, because the stairs were steep and covered in moss. First thing I did when he was out of sight? Fall down. Thanks for nothing, fake Nikes! I could definitely see why he loved this waterfall so much, though – I was the ONLY person there, so it was completely peaceful and serene, and the steep trail to get down to the bottom wound through a jungle full of vines and twisted tree roots. I couldn’t stop taking pictures everywhere I turned. When I did get to the base, I just sat and enjoyed the peace for awhile before heading back up.
By now, I was starting to get really tired. Despite applying and reapplying sun cream at every stop we made, I could feel my nose getting sunburned through the visor of my helmet; I spent a lot of the rest of the ride missing out on great views just so I could turn my face away from the stupid sun.. But if my daddy taught me one thing, it’s that sunburns are bad (If you’re reading this, Dad, I have you in mind EVERY time I put my sun cream on!).
We stopped for pictures a few times once we started the descent from the mountains into the desert area that Mui Ne was in. The view was amazing – jungle and mountains as far as I could see. At one point, it started to rain, so we had to put on the ponchos Toe had brought for us, and between the poncho and the insane increase in temperature as we descended through the mountains, even the breeze on the back of the motorbike couldn’t keep me from sweating. When we made it to the bottom of the mountains, we stopped at a village where EVERY house was exactly the same for miles and miles. I asked Toe why they were built that way, but even he didn’t know. He also showed me the schoolhouse and explained that although it was built for 1000 students, only about 200 attended the school. The other 3/4 of the children in the village worked in the fields or out in the mountains hunting for their families, because it was the most lucrative option for their lifestyle. Just outside the village, we rode past a rubber tree plantation. Toe explained that they were “young trees” and it would be many years before they could be harvested. Up until this point, I don’t think I knew that rubber came from trees…
Throughout the day, Toe had been excitedly pointing out dragonfruit plantations to me – the plants looked like aloe vera plants, but with huge pink fruits at the ends. When we got closer to Mui Ne, there was a woman on the side of one of the plantations selling some of the ripe, harvested fruits. He spoke to her in Vietnamese, and then told me she agreed to take me into the field to pick my own fruits. She didn’t speak English, but managed to show me how to pick the fruits and how to tell that they’re ripe. She was so cute, she wouldn’t even take money when I offered it to her – and dragon fruit isn’t cheap!
Our last stop was in the actual town of Mui Ne – the white sand dunes. The dunes are the main attraction of the small town – these huge, desert-like sand dunes right on the edge of the ocean. We arrived at the dunes at around 3pm when the day was at its hottest. Walking through the sand was much harder than I imagined for some reason, and the feeling of sunburn was ruining any enjoyment I was getting out of the dunes, so I made it a quick stop since I planned on doing a sunrise tour the next day anyway. The last 20-30 minutes of the trip were the worst. My nose was burning, and my butt was hurting from riding on the bumpy roads all day. I was so happy to finally get to my hostel, that I gave Toe a big hug (based on his reaction, this is not a normal way to show your thanks). I felt so goofy standing there checking into the hostel – with my green suede nikes, my banana shirt, and two dragonfruit tucked under my arm, I felt like a character straight out of a Wes Anderson movie.