Tag Archives: vietnamese highlands

Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey – The Final Part – Kon Tum to Kham Duc and Hoi An

After an action packed few days on the motorcycle, the most southerly part of the Ho Chi Minh trail now awaited me on the final stretch of the motorcycle tour – this leg concluded the journey, heading up the trail from Kon Tum to stop off overnight at Kham Duc before arriving at Hoi An. The trail was the most important spinal network during the Vietnam War for the logistical transportation of Viet Cong troops, supplies and ammunition from the North to the South of Vietnam, with parts crossing over into nearby Laos and Cambodia. It was an area of supreme strategic and tactical importance and was therefore host to many bloody battles. Apart from the historical aspect of the trail, the landscape it cuts through is some of the most breath-taking in the world. The trail was originally quite compact, but its modernisation has led to the construction of long winding roads that cut through a the complex terrains. The next couple of days gave me a chance to see just what the jungle was about and ended up being the most enjoyable for cruising on the bike. The majority of time on both days was spent just taking in the sights and enjoying the bike ride.

As we moved on past Charlie Mountain and headed past the remains of a US airfield, the vegetation started to spring out at us more readily – the landscape was still trying to fight off the war remnants, and as we headed further out of Kon Tum towards Kham Duc, the scenery changed into thick forestry with the occasional beautiful waterfall, until finally becoming full grown jungle territory.

Breakfast with Mui Ne - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Breakfast with Mui Ne – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Charlie Mountain - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Charlie Mountain – Kon Tum, Vietnam


War Memorial - Kon Tum, Vietnam

War Memorial – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Schoolkids with Guns - Memorial at Kon Tum, Vietnam

Schoolkids with Guns – Memorial at Kon Tum, Vietnam


Kon Tum Airstrip - Vietnam

Kon Tum Airstrip – Vietnam


Start of Ho Chi Minh Trail - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Start of Ho Chi Minh Trail – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Ho Chi Minh Trail Roadsign - Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh Trail Roadsign – Vietnam

En route, the only main stop off we had in terms of culture, was a brief visit to the Ve Tribe. They had much more traditional housing, bungalow in appearance, but again on stilts. In contrast to what I’d seen so far, they were built widely rather than deep, with the main entrances to the side of the building. For them, the bull was central to their sacrificial ritual, and in similar vein to the Ba Na, sees the bull with great power and presence – a protector of their people.

Ve Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam

Ve Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam


Ve Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam

Ve Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam


Interior of Ve Tribe Dwellings - Vietnam

Interior of Ve Tribe Dwellings – Vietnam


Bulls Skull - Ve Tribe, Vietnam

Bulls Skull – Ve Tribe, Vietnam


Interior of Ve Tribe Dwellings - Vietnam

Interior of Ve Tribe Dwellings – Vietnam


Ve Tribe Councilman Dwellings - Vietnam

Ve Tribe Councilman Dwellings – Vietnam


Ve Tribe Councilman - Vietnam

Ve Tribe Councilman – Vietnam


Children at Play - Ve Tribe, Vietnam

Children at Play – Ve Tribe, Vietnam


Twig Bridge - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Twig Bridge – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Wobbly Bridge - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Wobbly Bridge – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Schoolgirl Walking Home - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Schoolgirl Walking Home – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Restful Boy - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Restful Boy – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Hills of the Ho Chi Minh Trail - Vietnam

Hills of the Ho Chi Minh Trail – Vietnam


Farming along the Ho Chi Minh Trail - Vietnam

Farming along the Ho Chi Minh Trail – Vietnam


Smoky Invasion - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Smoky Invasion – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Jungle Post Agent Orange - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Jungle Post Agent Orange – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Ho Chi Minh Trail - Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh Trail – Vietnam


Rice Farming - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Rice Farming – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Hidden Waterfall - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Hidden Waterfall – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Modern Ho Chi Minh Trail - Vietnam

Modern Ho Chi Minh Trail – Vietnam


Peaceful Jungle - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Peaceful Jungle – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Jungle Canape - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Jungle Canape – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Jungle Valley - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Jungle Valley – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Local Kids of Kham Duc - Vietnam

Local Kids of Kham Duc – Vietnam


Woman Making Pancakes - Vietnam

Woman Making Pancakes – Vietnam

Upon arrival at Kham Duc in the Quang Nam province, I was at complete ease with myself and was completely blown away by the scenery. It was the final night of dining with Mui as the following day would complete our 5-day journey to Hoi An, so we decided to have a few beers and rice wine to see off the night. At this point, having spent the last 4 days with Mui, we felt a good bonding between us and it was a shame that it was to end soon…

The final stretch between Kham Duc and Hoi An was quite a short affair with some final spectacular jungle foliage to cut through with some wide rampaging rivers to cross over.

River Cutting Through the Jungle - Vietnam

River Cutting Through the Jungle – Vietnam


Rapid River - Vietnam

Rapid River – Vietnam


Colourful River - Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam

Colourful River – Ho Chi Minh Trail, Vietnam


Riverboats - Vietnam

Riverboats – Vietnam

Mui did his usual emergency stop when he spotted something interesting. One touching visit was to a farmer and his wife who had apparently built shelter in the middle of nowhere. Mui questioned why they were so isolated on their own, and we learnt that they ran away a couple of years ago in order to be together and start a family. The customs of their village forbade them from marriage; so daringly, they decided to start life elsewhere on their own. They haven’t been back since.

Isolated Family - Ho Chi Minh Trial, Vietnam

Isolated Family – Ho Chi Minh Trial, Vietnam

As I was coming to terms that the trip in Vietnam was ending, Mui had one last trick up his sleeve. He took me into nearby Quy Thang to visit another temple – this time; it was of the Caoist religion. This is a modern day religion that attempts to combine world religions bringing together Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. Their core belief is for peaceful homogenisation – that all beings should be able to live and share the same space, irrelevant of beliefs and worship the god that they choose unchallenged. It was an interesting premise that was working here…

Caoist Temple - Vietnam

Caoist Temple – Vietnam


The Three Saints of Caiosm - Vietnam

The Three Saints of Caiosm – Vietnam

At Hoi An, it was time to say a fond farewell to Mui after an incredible journey. Although it had only been 5 days since we met, it seemed a long time ago that he wandered into the hostel in Da Lat to offer me his services. And I’m glad he convinced me…

Mui and Me - Hoi An, Vietnam

Mui and Me – Hoi An, Vietnam

Further Reading on Vietnam

 
Off Road Vietnam
http://www.offroadvietnam.com/eng/13-45.php

Easy Riders – Motorcycle Tours of Vietnam
http://www.easy-riders.net/

Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/central-vietnam/history

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Vietnam Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey Part 3 – Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum

The third day of the motorcycle journey through the Vietnamese Highlands was the most ambitious one in terms of distances, needing to cover around 300km up to the next resting point of Kon Tum. In terms of millage, it doesn’t seem that long on the face of it, but on a motorbike doing around 60km/h average, it’s a fair distance with the stoppages planned on the way. Not only that, but we were greeted by a ferocious gale which froze us to the bone during the morning hours, the fight against the wind unbearable at times. Strangely, it painted a perfect picture of what we would see throughout the first couple of hours. Buôn Ma Thuột was definitely the starting point for more tales of the Vietnam War. The day was heavily based around its history and the journey was unable to escape the hangover of the war.

Our first stop off point was in fact at a War Memorial which gave me a chance to take a look at the vast amounts of names of people that had succumbed to the battle.

War Memorial - Buon Ma Thuot - Vietnam

War Memorial – Buon Ma Thuot – Vietnam

Moving on, we battled our way through the wind on the incredible zigzagging roads through lower mountains, but the weather couldn’t spoil the breath-taking views of the countryside. I have to say, as much as I love photography, I really struggled to capture the ambiance and atmosphere that I was experiencing on the road without real preparation – this was definitely more a personal feeling of freedom over the photography of what you would probably define as customary countryside.

Setting for the Ride from Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum, Vietnam

Setting for the Ride from Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum, Vietnam


On The Road - Vietnamese Central Highlands

On The Road – Vietnamese Central Highlands


Cut Through the Forest - Vietnam

Cut Through the Forest – Vietnam

En route, we managed to veer off track to check out a vast Vaseline and rubber tree plantation. With the wind at full force, it was a brilliantly eerie setting, with the tunnels of noise thundering through the canapés as we wandered about.

Vaseline Trees - Vietnam

Vaseline Trees – Vietnam

After scaring ourselves silly, we then hopped back on the bike and stopped off at a nearby rice noodle factory. Again, one might expect the factory to be a huge full blown production system – in fact, it was yet again owned by a small family who milled the rice noodles by hand and basic machinery.

Local Rice Noodle Makers - Vietnam

Local Rice Noodle Makers – Vietnam


Rice Noodle Rack - Vietnam

Rice Noodle Rack – Vietnam

Not too far down the road, we then came across some peppercorn ranches followed by my first proper introduction to the best fruit I’ve ever tasted – the Star Fruit. Mui told me I’d had it in the spring rolls yesterday and this could have been why they were so succulent. As I’d picked these from the source, they were ripe and irresistible, the freshest and sweetest fruit I’ve ever had!

Coffee Groves - Vietnam

Coffee Groves – Vietnam


Peppercorn Groves - Vietnam

Peppercorn Groves – Vietnam


Star Fruit Plant - Vietnam

Star Fruit Plant – Vietnam

It was then time for lunch. We couldn’t have stopped off any further off the beaten track. It was like the American mid-west. There was nothing insight apart from farmland and forest in the distance, a gas station and this one restaurant. We’d obviously arrived just after lunchtime as the place was a complete mess. Mui said that the mess showed signs of why we are here – it gets busy because it’s the best crispy chicken around. And boy was he right. I was beginning to wonder if I was getting carried away, but the chicken was amazing. Crispy as hell skin topped with some secret spice recipe with succulent tenderness beneath. All served with rice noodles and shrimp sauce. We had two servings each…

Back on the bike, we then headed onwards to Kon Tum. This took us through Play Cu and Ham Rong which is otherwise known as the Valley of the Dead and borders Skeleton or Charlie Mountain. Having come through some thick vegetation en route from Buon Ma Thout, this was a complete contrast in scenery. The scars of the Vietnam War were substantial here. There were huge flat plains which were left lifeless from the huge from Agent Orange bombings.

Charlie Mountain - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Charlie Mountain – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rice Gathering - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rice Gathering – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Effects of Agent Orange - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Effects of Agent Orange – Kon Tum, Vietnam

Mui told me how the area used to be thick jungle, the scenery true to the depictions in Vietnam War movies. It used to be brimming with life and the jungle would dominate the area for hundreds of miles. This was a key area for Viet Cong outposts that the US army couldn’t infiltrate and one of the most underestimated treacherous areas the US soldiers would enter – an area the Viet Cong thrived in and ultimately led to their victory. The only way for the US to take the Kon Tum area was to bomb it, even if it meant sacrificing US troops. And the scars were here to be seen.

We arrived in Kon Tum late in the afternoon – a little battered and weary from the earlier winds that then turned into red hot sunshine. The first thing that we bizarrely went to visit was the Kon Tum Wooden Church or the Christian Church of the Tay Nguyen people. The church was built in 1913 by French christian priests during Vietnam’s occupation. It is perfectly designed under the combination of Roman architectural style and Ba Na people’s architecture for stilt housing which resulted in the beautiful convergence of Tay Nguyen culture and Western style.

Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam

Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam


Facade of the Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam

Facade of the Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam


Shaded Wooden Church of Kon Tum, Vietnam

Shaded Wooden Church of Kon Tum, Vietnam

From there, we ventured off to visit the more traditional side of Vietnam and meet two more tribes – the Ba Na and Gie Trieng. As with each tribe, they both have their symbolism and rituals which we had a chance to peek at. The Ba Na Tribe is easily recognised by the huge sky-scraping village halls or communal housing (rong), built on high stilts with huge thatched roofs and long corridors. Within the Ba Na tribe, the focal point of marriage is the responsibility of the individuals – which is quite rare. They also worship the God of Water and the Mountains, with human spirit being central to life. Music is a huge part of the Ba Na tradition, and I had a chance to watch the local councilman play on his hand built t’rung xylophone and even have a go at playing myself.

Ba Na Tribe Hall - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Ba Na Tribe Hall – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Skeleton of a Ba Na Hut - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Skeleton of a Ba Na Hut – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rafters of a Ba Na Hut, Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rafters of a Ba Na Hut, Kon Tum, Vietnam


Beams of a Ba Na Hut - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Beams of a Ba Na Hut – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Ba Na Councilman on the T'rung Xylophone - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Ba Na Councilman on the T’rung Xylophone – Kon Tum, Vietnam

The Gie Trieng Tribe were located nearby and were quite similar. However, the buffalo is the most symbolic to them, with regular ritual ceremonial sacrifices. They believe that this transfers the strength and presence of the animal to their tribe.

Gie Trieng Dwellings - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Gie Trieng Dwellings – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Gie Trieng Dwellings - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Gie Trieng Dwellings – Kon Tum, Vietnam

As we wandered through the villages in the late evening sunshine, we were greeted once more by local children on their way home from school. As we sat witnessing the sunset over the nearby river, we also saw the local rush hour home, with horse and cattle carts coming back across the bridge from the nearby farmlands.

Sunset over a Bridge - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Sunset over a Bridge – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rush Hour - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rush Hour – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rush Hour - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rush Hour – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Farmer En Route Home - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Farmer En Route Home – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Steel Bridge - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Steel Bridge – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Children behind Bars - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Children behind Bars – Kon Tum, Vietnam

Suitably chilled out, we ate at a local pancake stall in the village – a concoction of rice flour, eggs, beef and vegetables. Simple and delicious again. Then, it was time for bed in preparation for Day 4…

Further Reading on Vietnam

 
Off Road Vietnam
http://www.offroadvietnam.com/eng/13-45.php

Easy Riders – Motorcycle Tours of Vietnam
http://www.easy-riders.net/

Vietnam Travel Guide
http://www.vietnam-travel-guide.net/central-highlands/kon-tum/

Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/central-highlands/kon-tum

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Vietnam Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey Part 2 – Lak Lake to Buon Ma Thuot

For the second day of my journey through the Vietnamese Highlands, Mui and I woke up at around 7am with the aim of reaching the waterfalls of Drây Sáp and Drây No on the edges of Buon Ma Thout – a couple of hundred kilometres further North for around lunchtime.

After a traditional beef noodle breakfast, we headed to some local M’Nong Villages in the early morning sunshine to take in the beautiful view across Lak Lake. It was peaceful scene with some elephants wandering around the banks with their keepers and the occasional out of towner.

Peaceful Solace - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Peaceful Solace – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Morning Stroll - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Morning Stroll – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Stork at Breakfast - Vietnam

Stork at Breakfast – Vietnam


Grazing - Vietnam

Grazing – Vietnam

Looking around the M’nong villages once again highlighted how there were distinct social class divisions within the tribe. There were two particular families with greater wealth and prosperity – one of their homes was built out of good quality solid wood with tiling on the roof, with the inside spacious in comparison to the standard fare. The other was built out of concrete, with a sheet metal roof and densely decorated on the outside. These two homes were completely removed from the disorder of some of the shacked huts we saw yesterday. What was more intriguing was that the style of housing remained consistent. They were also on stilts, oblong shaped and with a gable roof (a roof with two sides only). What differentiated them was purely based on the quality of the materials used and how they were decorated.

Mui Entering M'nong Tribe Home, Vietnam

Mui Entering M’nong Tribe Home, Vietnam


Upper Class of the M'nong Tribe - Vietnam

Upper Class of the M’nong Tribe – Vietnam

Mui managed to get us an invite into one of the local’s homes to have a look around. The house was quite spacious inside and as with yesterday’s fair, limited in terms of luxuries. However, they did have material possessions which were key to their social class status within the tribe. Just like having an expensive car on the front drive or a conservatory on the back of your house, certain possessions had certain meanings. For example, I touched on the importance of the huge jars that sat at the foot of the tombs of the M’nong cemetaries on the first day of my trip – these jars were hugely significant before you passed away. A family’s economic and social status within the village would grow with each additional bigger and better quality jar. At time of your passing, these jars would then sit at the foot of your tomb to show others how important you had been. They even had huge metal pan type objects which were apparently as important – again, quantity, quality and size qualified you. I found it quite fascinating how only a few kilometres further on from tribes like the Chil and the Ma, there’s another tribe who actually thrives on social infrastructure and materialism. Two complete extremes within touching distance of each other. The M’nong Tribe also embraced foreigners and was used to them, often capitalising on them through trade. The secluded Chil and Ma Tribes yesterday had barely seen an outsider. Their roots were the same; however the M’nong Tribe – even though still not technologically advanced – decided to try escaping isolation.

M'nong Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam

M’nong Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam


Social Status Jars - M'nong Village

Social Status Jars – M’nong Village


Trophies - M'nong Village

Trophies – M’nong Village

As we moved on, the heat intensified throughout the morning – much more so than yesterday – which meant we stopped off quite regularly to take on some fluids. One stop was at a huge brick producing factory – this again was not a machine dominated factory, but instead driven by manual labour. There wasn’t that much interest here, but it gave me another opportunity to take a couple more interesting snaps. Further on, we relaxed whilst looking out at some fisherman going about their days business on a stunning lake encircled by a beautiful mountainous backdrop.

Men at Work - Vietnam

Men at Work – Vietnam


Fishing in the Mid Afternoon Heat - Vietnam

Fishing in the Mid Afternoon Heat – Vietnam

After around 4 hours, we arrived in one of the most important towns in the Central Highlands – Buôn Ma Thuột. This was a hugely influential strategic post for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War and the current capital of the Dak Lak Province. It was here I encountered the next real gem of the trip. Mui did his usual by randomly pulling up in someone’s driveway. After knocking on the door and smiling at me, he beckoned me forward. At the door was a very old frail man who invited us in. Upon entering, all I could see hanging on the walls were certificates of the Viet Cong, with flags and emblems scattered around the place. The old man was a 90-year active communist who served for the Viet Cong throughout the war and has been a member of the Communist Party for over 50 years. He’s still an important spokesman of the Northern Vietnamese committee that still congregates within the town. His wife was a radio operator – although she was there, she kept to herself, with obvious affects from the war taken toll on her mind.

War Tales of an Old Vietcong Man - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

War Tales of an Old Vietcong Man – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam


Radio Operator of the Vietcong

Radio Operator of the Vietcong

Coincidentally, it was also the 35th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, and although he was a practiced communist, he was due to meet up with US veterans of war in Buon Ma Thuot that week! As Mui spoke to him, he recounted tails of fighting off the Americans and how to this day, he’s still proud of standing up to them in the fight for their own freedom. He described tales of shooting US soldiers from point blank range to save his own skin, to the extreme tales of shooting fellow comrades in order to help injured enemies. He said he mainly did this as dying was an easy way out of the pain. He’d gone through it all – the main story that stuck out centred around the horrendous napalm bombing – many times whilst evading the shells himself he would stand watching friends scratching away at their skin to try and release themselves from the burning sticky mess that had concealed them – again he would shoot them to ease the pain. He also explained how although 35 years had passed, the war scars were still there to be seen in his town and throughout the highlands. And it seemed like he was right from a brief tour round town, with the Vietnamese flag in full flight everywhere you go in amongst the War Memorials and statues. Mui told me to expect more to come as we move up through the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Buon Ma Thuot - Vietnam

Buon Ma Thuot – Vietnam


Iron Bridge - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Iron Bridge – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam


Bridge View - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Bridge View – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

It was then time to bid farewell and head for one of the best lunches I’ve had. Again, it was nothing too complex – just some traditional fresh spring rolls – but their taste and freshness was just unbelievable. The rolls were served open for you to make up as you wished. Aside from the rice wraps, it came with rice noodles, banana cucumber, lettuce, pork scratching, fried batter, the delicious star fruit and some incredible shrimp sauce. Wrap that all up and it exploded in your mouth – the freshness combined with the impish fats of the pork and batter.

With our stomachs content, we then headed about half an hour further up the road to the second highlight of the day – the beautiful Drây Sáp and Drây No Waterfalls. The lunchtime sun was a killer, beating down on both of us and it was a perfect way to cool off – diving into the lagoons with the waterfalls coming down from high above for a good hard massage. After taking a dip, it was time to relax in the surrounding jungle foliage before heading to our hotel.

Krong No River - Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam

Krong No River – Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam


Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam

Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam


Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam

Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam


Dray Sap Waterfalls at Sunset, Vietnam

Dray Sap Waterfalls at Sunset, Vietnam


Massaged - Dray Sap Waterfalls on the Canon Ixus 50, Vietnam

Massaged – Dray Sap Waterfalls on the Canon Ixus 50, Vietnam

Dinner was another interesting affair – we headed back into Buôn Ma Thuột to a huge diner. This was one of the best places to get duck stew and I wasn’t let down. What was amazing was the fact the whole duck came in the stew. Not just the unrecognisable meat – but we’re talking feet, neck, and head! But the stew was incredible – the duck fatty and delicious, the soup itself refreshing yet tangy.

Mui Stirring Duck Stew - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Mui Stirring Duck Stew – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam


Buon Ma Thuot Restaurant, Vietnam

Buon Ma Thuot Restaurant, Vietnam

With day 2 over and the stories of the war in my head, we were gaining ground on the Ho Chi Minh trail itself…

Further Reading on Vietnam

 
Off Road Vietnam
http://www.offroadvietnam.com/eng/13-45.php

Easy Riders – Motorcycle Tours of Vietnam
http://www.easy-riders.net/

Vietnam Travel Guide
http://www.vietnam-travel-guide.net/central-highlands/dalat/

Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/central-highlands/sights/other/dray-sap-dray

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Vietnam Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey Part 1 – Da Lat to Lak Lake

After a mid-morning breakfast on yet another hot and humid day in Saigon, it was time for me to head to Da Lat in the Vietnamese Highlands. Da Lat is the capital of the Lam Dong province and is a perfect place to start plotting a journey up through the Central Highlands, taking a trip up the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail that was created during the Vietnam War . This was a transport link between the Northern and Southern Viet Cong outposts against the US allies. Most people have heard about motorcycling through the country’s beautiful mountain ranges and jungle terrains, and being an avid motorcyclist, this was an opportunity not to miss out on.

Da Lat - Vietnam

Da Lat – Vietnam

The 8-hour bus journey from Saigon was long and sluggish, heading up to around 1500 metres above sea level. The bus was barely capable of hitting 40kph on a flat straight and it really struggled to get up through the slithering mountain roadways up to Da Lat. The journey was fraught with danger as sun set in, with the driver throwing the bus around treacherous roads that were perched on the edge of vast cliff faces, centimetres away from plummeting to our death. Not only was he avoiding the massive gaping holes in the road in complete darkness, but he was also playing quite a good tactical game of chicken with any oncoming truck coming down towards us. I just had to relax, stick on the Animal Collective and not fall asleep in fear of not waking up ever again.

The next morning at breakfast in the hostel I’d checked into, a man called Mui Ne walked into the bar. He was geared up in motorcycle clothes and sunglasses and looked like a man on a mission. He also had an “Easy Rider” jacket on – I’d heard of these guys before I’d arrived in Da Lat, and it was like someone had sent in a premonition. I introduced myself to him, and within about 20 minutes he had me sold – I’d hop on the back of his bike the following day for a 5-day tour through the rest of the highlands. I was a bit apprehensive at first, wanting to actually ride myself, but taking his advice to let him do the driving was the best decision I could have ever made. Mui was overwhelmingly passionate about his country and this could only be a positive thing for my journey onwards.

The following day, Mui met me at the hotel at around 8am. The first port of call was to a nearby Buddhist Temple on the outskirts of Da Lat.

Buddhist Temple - Da Lat, Vietnam

Buddhist Temple – Da Lat, Vietnam


Golden Dragon - Da Lat, Vietnam

Golden Dragon – Da Lat, Vietnam

Mui gave me a more detailed explanation of the meanings of Buddhism to the Vietnamese, how Karma was central to it, the huge importance of the balance of Ying and Yang between all beings and also how the dragon, the phoenix and the turtle were also embodied in all temples representing power, knowledge, wealth, long life and happiness. The afterlife also has significance, with the belief that your soul passes onto paradise when you’re your body completes its life. However, Buddhists continue to communicate with their ancestors, and one of the most common ways to do so is by writing letters and then placing them within a huge bell within a temple. The bell would then be sounded in order to pass the message on.

We then hopped back on the bike and started the sweeping journey up towards Lak Lake, where we would eventually rest up for the night. The first day of the journey brought with it a plethora of sites, cultures, ethnic minorities and tribes, landscapes and some incredible food. Although the air was quite dry and warm, the landscapes were lush green owing to the rainy seasons preceding the current summer one, a perfect environment for the vast wealth of rice fields that we passed by.

Vietnamese Central Highlands

Vietnamese Central Highlands


Vietnamese Central Highlands

Vietnamese Central Highlands


Terraced Farming - Vietnam

Terraced Farming – Vietnam


Mountains of the Southern Highlands - Vietnam

Mountains of the Southern Highlands – Vietnam


Late Afternoon Sunlight on the Southern Highlands - Vietnam

Late Afternoon Sunlight on the Southern Highlands – Vietnam


Farmlands - Da Lat, Vietnam

Farmlands – Da Lat, Vietnam

Continuing onwards saw us pass through huge expanses of farm land; at one point, we took a break to chat to some potato and onion farmers at the side of the road – what was surprising was that there was no machinery in sight – it was pure manual labour as the farmers picked each and every potato and onion by hand underneath the powerful sunshine. But, they were all very sprightful, kind people. They didn’t need any machinery. They enjoyed their work and saw nothing more in it than harvesting for local needs – money and materiality was a distant thought. As a gesture, they even insisted we take a bag of potatoes with us. We said we were on the road and probably wouldn’t use them, so we promised to hand over to someone else on route.

Potato Picking - Vietnam

Potato Picking – Vietnam


Potato and Onion Farmers at Work - Vietnam

Potato and Onion Farmers at Work – Vietnam


Man Picks Potatoes - Vietnam

Man Picks Potatoes – Vietnam

As we rode on, it wasn’t long before we stopped off at some flower and rose orchards, before riding through acres upon acres of coffee farms, as well as the more secluded mushroom and silk worm farms.

Rose Farming - Vietnam

Rose Farming – Vietnam


Mushroom Farming - Vietnam

Mushroom Farming – Vietnam


Close-up of Mushroom Farming - Vietnam

Close-up of Mushroom Farming – Vietnam


Coffee Groves - Vietnam

Coffee Groves – Vietnam

At one of the silk farms, we had a chance to go in and take a look at the whole process. The silk worms would be harvested in huge cold damp warehouses, left to eat vegetation for days on end, before the eventual transformation into cocoons that would form the basis for the silk. These cocoons would then be cleaned off, with the silk manually extracted from each before being transferred to huge machines for stretching and drying out, then moved into a small clothing factory nearby.

Mui Ne and the Silk Worm - Vietnam

Mui Ne and the Silk Worm – Vietnam


Silk Worm Shop Floor, Vietnam

Silk Worm Shop Floor, Vietnam


Silk Worm Farming - Vietnam

Silk Worm Farming – Vietnam


Silk Worm Cocoons - Vietnam

Silk Worm Cocoons – Vietnam


Silk Worm Cocoon Nest - Vietnam

Silk Worm Cocoon Nest – Vietnam


Silk Extraction - Vietnam

Silk Extraction – Vietnam


Threading Silk by Hand - Vietnamese Silk Factory

Threading Silk by Hand – Vietnamese Silk Factory


Hands at Work on Silk Machinery - Vietnamese Silk Farm

Hands at Work on Silk Machinery – Vietnamese Silk Farm


Silk Preparation - Vietnamese Silk Factory

Silk Preparation – Vietnamese Silk Factory


Silk Dryers - Vietnam

Silk Dryers – Vietnam


Silk Dryers - Vietnam

Silk Dryers – Vietnam


Silk Press Machine - Vietnam

Silk Press Machine – Vietnam


Woman Sewing - Vietnam

Woman Sewing – Vietnam

Jumping back on the wheels, we headed off through the farmland once more and stopped off at the next temple. I was beginning to think, are we really going to stop off at every temple? Like sensing my thoughts, Mui told me not to worry about seeing too many – he would only stop off at those offering something different. And he was right about this one as I got to meet a huge 150 ft. giant smiley blue Buddha!

Blue Buddha - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Blue Buddha – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Man Cleans Buddha - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Man Cleans Buddha – Lak Lake, Vietnam

Only 4-hours of the journey had passed by and I was already completely at ease. As we approached the province of Dak Lak, we then started to move off from the farmlands into some small local villages.

On the Road - Lak Lake, Vietnam

On the Road – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Village of the Chil Tribe - Vietnam

Village of the Chil Tribe – Vietnam

It was home time for the school kids for some kind of siesta in the heights of the afternoon sunshine. Tens of school children came running over toward us on the bike as we entered one village, all waving, smiling, saying hello, giggling and completely transfixed by us. It obviously wasn’t often that they get to see a westerner on the back of a motorbike – it was still completely alien to them. We stopped off to say hello, but after all the jubilation; they were actually quite hesitant of approaching me at first. Mui beckoned them over to say it was ok, and within seconds they rushed over and started touching me, feeling my hair and just generally checking me out!

Schoolkids - Chil Village, Vietnam

Schoolkids – Chil Village, Vietnam

We then headed over into the home of a local family of the Chil Tribe. I wasn’t quite sure if Mui knew them or he was just being friendly, but they eventually invited us in for some really strong green tea and a chat. I say a chat, but of course it was mainly to Mui, describing how they were mainly coffee farmers but also had a livestock farm out the back. Their housing was extremely basic – a hut they built themselves with the bare necessities of a hot stove in the corner, a kitchen table, some pans and utensils hanging about the place and some bedding in another room. They didn’t even have running water into the house, this was all out the back and irrigated from a nearby well. They were extremely humble and knew nothing about the material side of life. They were together, happy as a family, working hard for each other and had no need for anything else. Yes, they looked economically impoverished, but they all looked healthy and happy for it. Their lives were much richer than some people I see back home. The man was also strong and fit, and their skin was so well kept you couldn’t really tell how old they were. Before we left, they handed me a blue and white necklace to keep which acted as a symbol of being welcomed into their tribe.

Chil Family - Vietnam

Chil Family – Vietnam


Kitchen - Vietnam

Kitchen – Vietnam


Me with Chil Family - Vietnam

Me with Chil Family – Vietnam


Two Vietnamese Chil Girls at Lunch - Vietnam

Two Vietnamese Chil Girls at Lunch – Vietnam


Kids Hanging Out - Chil Tribe, Vietnam

Kids Hanging Out – Chil Tribe, Vietnam


Inquisitive Children - Vietnam

Inquisitive Children – Vietnam


Smiling Vietnamese Girl - Ma Tribe, Vietnam

Smiling Vietnamese Girl – Ma Tribe, Vietnam

After bidding farewell, it was time for lunch at a stop off point perched high up on a mountain peak. This was the first of many buffets of amazing fish, meat, chicken, rice soup and noodles – all succulently fresh and moreish. There was enough to feed a family of 4 and it only cost around $2.

Back on the bike, we then stopped off at a few other villages which included a quick visit to a rice winery. This was my first opportunity to have some proper rice wine, straight from the source and it almost blew my balls off. The winery itself was like everything I’d seen so far, meek and humble. There was no huge machinery around. Instead, it was the family manually producing it.

Woman Preparing Rice Wine - Vietnam

Woman Preparing Rice Wine – Vietnam


Rice Wine Boilers - Vietnam

Rice Wine Boilers – Vietnam

It seemed quite a simple process on paper – the wine would be sifted and cooked slowly in a stewing pot for a few hours. Later, the rice would be crushed down and left for a few days to ferment before going through the distillation process to produce the wine. We of course took a bottle with us to enjoy at dinner time later…

As we continued onwards, we started moving through lavish forest lands before entering Dak Lak. It was here I had my first real moving moment in Vietnam. We took a right off the beaten track and headed towards a small village home to the Ma Tribe. This was a very small village with only a few homes and farmland around it, but once again, upon arrival, the locals were perplexed as to what they were seeing. Mui convinced them to invite us in – one that proved difficult at first because of my big camera. They still didn’t really understand what a camera was, but were intrigued by it. A blacksmith invited us into their home for a brief chat. His wife was also there with him. They were beautiful amazing people, soft and humble and just couldn’t wait to get in front of the camera! Having said that, the flash scared them, so I had some trouble getting the right shots of them, especially in bad lighting, but the results were impeccable. They were overjoyed by it themselves, but a little disappointed they couldn’t keep the photos! They both had such smooth skin that didn’t look too weathered other than the more obvious cracks you get upon ageing. Their hands were huge – workman like and clearly put to good use over the years for their craft. There was a strange moment where they touched my face and hair and I touched them back. Mui then told me that the man was 95 and the woman 84. Again, their surroundings were basic. But they had survived…

Blacksmith and Wife - Ma Tribe, Vietnam

Blacksmith and Wife – Ma Tribe, Vietnam


Blacksmith of the Ma Tribe - Vietnam

Blacksmith of the Ma Tribe – Vietnam


Blacksmith Wife - Ma Tribe - Vietnam

Blacksmith Wife – Ma Tribe – Vietnam


Mui and Blacksmith of the Ma Tribe, Vietnam

Mui and Blacksmith of the Ma Tribe, Vietnam


Aged Innocence - Vietnam

Aged Innocence – Vietnam


Humble Face - Vietnam

Humble Face – Vietnam

As the day wore on, we then headed onto flatter rice field land.

Sunset Over Lak Lake - Vietnam

Sunset Over Lak Lake – Vietnam


Cut Through Rice Fields - Vietnam

Cut Through Rice Fields – Vietnam


Rice Fields at Sunset - Vietnam

Rice Fields at Sunset – Vietnam


Lost Dwellings - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Lost Dwellings – Lak Lake, Vietnam

We also stopped off at the M’nong Cemeteries which at first may seem a little strange to visit. However, this was important to explain the local religion and ritual. The M’nong believed that once you passed away, your spirit lives on elsewhere and that your body can still enjoy food and drink and maintains status within the community. This meant that the deceased were encased in tombs nearby; however, these tombs also had outlets through which food and drink were poured so the body could absorb. At the foot of these tombs, huge expensive jars would sit as a symbol of wealth for the deceased. Bottles would also be strewn about the tombs after families would sit getting drunk around them. They really ensured the deceased didn’t miss out!

M'nong Tribe Tombs - Vietnam

M’nong Tribe Tombs – Vietnam


M'nong Tribe Tomb - Vietnam

M’nong Tribe Tomb – Vietnam


Side by Side at Peace - M'nong Tombs, Vietnam

Side by Side at Peace – M’nong Tombs, Vietnam

We then stopped off at the nearest M’nong village and again were invited into a family home. This time, although again their foundations weren’t rich, they appeared to have some wealth behind them. They had better infrastructure and their housing, albeit still huts on stilts. Underneath, their livestock and animals would be kept out of the blazing sunshine. Within the village, there were obvious differences in wealth. Some housing would bear thatched roofs on top of basic wooden walls. Inside, it would be decorated with basic furniture. Others would have sturdier foundations, even girdered or tiled roofs, more expensive looking furnishing and even stereo systems and instruments. So even villages in the remotest areas had social infrastructures and status.

Stilted – M’nong Tribe, Vietnam

Stilted – M’nong Tribe, Vietnam


Chicken Coup - Vietnam

Chicken Coup – Vietnam


M'nong Tribe Neighbours - Lak Lake, Vietnam

M’nong Tribe Neighbours – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Girdered Roof - M'nong Tribe, Vietnam

Girdered Roof – M’nong Tribe, Vietnam


Middle Class - M'nong Tribe - Vietnam

Middle Class – M’nong Tribe – Vietnam


Stereo Life - M'nong Tribe, Vietnam

Stereo Life – M’nong Tribe, Vietnam


Vietnamese Dwellings - Vietnam

Vietnamese Dwellings – Vietnam


Weary Home - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Weary Home – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Protected - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Protected – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Lak Lake Village - Vietnam

Lak Lake Village – Vietnam


Homeward Bound Farmer - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Homeward Bound Farmer – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Cow and Chicken - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Cow and Chicken – Lak Lake, Vietnam

To end the day, we headed over to the local river side. Mui got me to buy some shampoo en route and told me I would know why when we got there. The local kids were playing in the river and the shampoo would be a perfect gift for them to wash themselves. They were glad to see us and very appreciative for it.

Children Bathing in River - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Children Bathing in River – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Shampoo Distribution - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Shampoo Distribution – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Vietnamese Girl Washing Hair - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Vietnamese Girl Washing Hair – Lak Lake, Vietnam

After dropping off our things at the hotel in Lak Lake, it was time for dinner in town. Mui took me to a small little open kiosk restaurant which was basically a local’s front room. As with many of the eateries to come, it was very basic and completely unhygienic. However, the food was irresistible. It was my first proper Bahn Cahn – a simple rice noodles dish with catfish, but it blew my socks off. The appetizer, however, didn’t have the same impact – Trong Cot Lon or baby foetus eggs. I simply watch as Mui cracked open the eggs to a small bird inside and guzzled it down…

Local Restaurant of Lak Lake - Vietnam

Local Restaurant of Lak Lake – Vietnam


Mui Pouring Rice Wine for Dinner - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Mui Pouring Rice Wine for Dinner – Lak Lake, Vietnam

Mui was a brilliant rider and he was completely justified in convincing me to relax on the back of the bike. I had a chance to chill completely out and take in the sites, and I would never have stopped at the places see and experience what I did. And there was plenty more to come…

Further Reading on Vietnam

 
Off Road Vietnam
http://www.offroadvietnam.com/eng/13-45.php

Easy Riders – Motorcycle Tours of Vietnam
http://www.easy-riders.net/

Vietnam Travel Guide
http://www.vietnam-travel-guide.net/central-highlands/dalat/

Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/central-highlands

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

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