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Taking the high road

Me and the big blue buddha

From Saigon we took a bus about four hours inland to the highlands. The altitude means there is a cool damp climate, suddenly people on scooters are wearing overcoats and thick trousers. It was previously a hill retreat for the French, although not much from the period seems to remain. French sticks and croissants are probably the most obvious thing. There were some very nice bakeries and cake shops there, an indulgence we allowed ourselves as such places are a rarity in Asia. The place had a few attractions, including the crazy house, which was as you’d imagine somewhat crazy. A wacky weird labrynthine place straight out of Alice in Wonderland. It was also devoid of health and safety concerns, it would have been quite easy to fall from the narrow stairways around the roof!

One day we went out on a countryside tour on the back of motorcycles. These ‘Easy Rider’ tours are very popular and we were able to get a good look at the hive of busy agriculture that exists in these fertile hills and valleys. Flowers, coffee, fruit and vegetables are everywhere. They even make wine, although cheap it would rank a distant second to Blue Nun, you get the idea. This proved no barrier to CM of course, she managed to grin and bear it over several evenings without complaint.

We went to coffee plantations and rice noodle making operations, we saw a lot of greenhouses containing tens of thousands of flowers.  Here is a robusta coffee plant, they normally stand about 5 feet high, but as we aslo saw if left to grow normally they turn into a tree, about 25ft high.

The origins of your frappechino mochalatte. They tasted bitter but the green nut inside had a slight coffee taste.

The ultimate coffee here isn’t Nescafe but weasel pooh coffee! It costs quite literally a fortune a kilo. At the plantation they had half a dozen sad looking ‘weasels’ the size of a large domestic cat but not what we know as weasels. They lived in small cages and were fed the ripe coffee berries. Their pooh is then collected from the floor beneath and dried and processed, the coffee beans pass through the weasel whole and these are said to make the best coffee money can buy.  It costs hundreds of dollars a kilo, and was enjoyed by Hilary Clinton when she came here apparently. But, the animals are farmed for their pooh in poor conditions and they all looked very unhappy in their small cages. Reason enough to boycott weasel coffee, let alone not wanting to eat pooh in the first place!

CM goes all spiritual at the Chinese temple

My 'Easy Rider' guide

Us at elephant falls, we climbed to the bottom and got wet!

Silk embroidery at the silk factory

My favourite outfit was a silk factory. We saw the whole process from silk worm cocoon, to finished silk clothing. The machinery being expertly used looked very old. A team of girls stood over the threads as they spun, their dextrous fingers quickly unravelling any tangles. You can see the machine at work in the clip below. The loom itself was over 100 years old, an original Jacquard loom, as invented by the French for the high court, the original Haute Couture. It had original punched cards to create the various patterns. These looms are acknowledged as the first programmable machine, they were in effect the very first computer system ever invented.

A`Jacquard loom in action, note the punched cards that program the weave pattern

More about them here, it was wonderful to see, and hear, and smell these old machines at work. The very beginnings of the industrial revolution clanking and whirring away in front of you. The silk individual silk threads are so thin you can hardly see them, almost like a spiders web. Those clever Chinese guarded the secret of sericulture for many years, but it got out eventually. As I recall from a TV documentary, the snitch who gave away the secret met with a grizzly death soon afterwards.


Dalat’s morning rush hour, outside our hotel:

Here’s a couple more pics from around Dalat. It really did feel like being back at home on a damp autumn afternoon. After a few days the novelty of cold wore off and we got back on the bus to head down through the hills to Nha Trang, a resort town on the coast. That was a spectacular journey through much pristine jungle clad hills. Virtually no people living there and no visible deforestation. I’d say this was the best example of what this part of the world is supposed to look like if left unexploited by man. It was the opposite of Malaysian Borneo, not an oil palm in sight. Long may it continue and a ripple of supporting applause to the government here. Although there are of course many concrete monstrosities springing up along the coast designed to accommodate the Russian and Chinese holiday makers, more on that later.

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2 Responses to “Taking the high road”

  1. jack butler says:

    Sounds like you are having a very interesting time, I’ll pass on the coffee but look forward to some of your cooking when you get back. The face masks the cyclists are waring, is the air polluted.
    All the best

    jack

  2. traveller2011 says:

    Hi Jack, not it’s not too polluted, just that Vietnamese ladies cherish white skin and don’t want to risk getting a tan!

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