Da Lat Countryside Tour: Rose Garden & Minority Village

The Da Lat Countryside tour was an amazing experience worth the $10 per person that we paid for it. The first part of the tour included a quick stop at the rose garden, where we got to see our first avocado tree! After that we visited a very unique minority village that also happened to be home to terrifying looking spiders the size of my palm!

The rest of the tour included a silk farm, Buddhist pagoda, elephant waterfall, cricket farm and a coffee plantation that specializes in “weasel” coffee. But I’ll tell you more about that in detail next time…

The rose garden stop was short and it was the part of the tour that I was least excited about. It turned out to be pretty fascinating because we got to see the rose fields that produced hundreds of thousands of roses that would be making their way all over Vietnam! Turns out that Da Lat is not only famous for their coffee, avocados but also roses.

Growing roses is no easy feat as they require constant care, spraying for pests and they need to be constantly pruned. The fields had the separate areas for roses of different color but the pink ones were the most popular. We watched the employees carefully tend to the plants and the entire place smelled like heaven!

On our way out, the guide pointed out an avocado tree. I had always pictured an avocado tree to look like a small bush growing a handful of fruit. Instead, it was a towering tree weighed down by dozens if not hundreds of ripening avocados! It was beautiful and mouthwatering, that was when our guide told us about Da Lat’s secret delicacy: avocado smoothies!

Next we went to the minority village that is a feminists dream come true. Not in a gender equality way but as proof that there is some balance in the universe… in this village, gender roles are reversed! Women are in charge of working, mostly on coffee plantations, while men stay home and raise children.

The men in this village are only allowed to marry once. Even after their wife dies, they must remain widowed. However if a man dies, his wife is allowed to remarry and have more children that her new husband will be in charge of raising.

We only spent about 15 minutes in the village, taking some photos and listening to the guide translate while a woman showed us a coffee bean bush and explained how we can tell if the bean is ripe. We were all gathered around under a large tree and I lost my focus the second I looked up.

The tree was completely covered in spider webs. It wouldn’t have bothered me if I hadn’t noticed the monstrous spiders, the size of my palm, crawling all over the tree. Above us. I’ve been known to shriek when surprised, but when I’m terrified I go mute. I was mute and wide-eyed when I pulled on my husbands sleeve and pointed up.

Even though he’s been known to scoop up spiders with his bare hand to throw them out of the apartment, even he looked scared. The more we looked around, the more spiders we saw. When we finally moved away from the terrifying tree, I asked the guide about the spiders.

She reassured us that although they are poisonous, they never bite people. She also told us that for some reason, you can only find these gigantic spiders in this one village. During the drive to our next stop, the silkworm farm, the guide pointed out several spots where there were hundreds of spiders. They had spun their webs all along the power lines. *shudders* I’m guessing these villagers have never seen a mosquito in their lives!

Next up: silk factory farm!

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The Second Tallest Building in the World, Shanghai

When we’re not traveling and exploring South East Asia, we’re exploring China and the city we live in, Shanghai. We have now been to the three tallest buildings in Shanghai – the only trifecta of mega-tall skyscrapers in the world! “Mega-tall” isn’t just my way of describing them, it’s the official term for skyscrapers taller than 600 meters.

Second only to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Shanghai Tower towers over Shanghai and adds to the spectacular skyline. Although it isn’t the tallest building in the world, it does boast the world’s highest observatory deck. So even if you’ve been to Burj Khalifa’s spectacular observatory floor, you still haven’t stood as high as you could have while visiting the Shanghai Tower!

Da Lat Countryside Tour Summary

Our expectations for this very affordable tour weren’t too high. We’ve been on several day tours that were packed with way too many activities to enjoy – this one was NOT like that! The tour started at 8:30 and ended at around 14:30. We were picked up a little late, but our enthusiastic guide completely made up for it.

First we went to the rose garden where we learned all about the rose business in Dalat and saw beautiful fields with thousands of roses. We also saw some avocado trees and the guide told us that we need to try avocado smoothies at the Dalat market (which we did and they were amazing).

Next up we visited a fascinating minority village where the traditional roles between men and women are reversed. Men raise children and clean the house while women work at the coffee plantations. Women chose the men they want to marry and if the man dies before the woman, the woman can remarry but the opposite isn’t possible. The village is also mysteriously covered in gigantic poisonous spiders the size of your palm! Terrifying.

After that we visited a silk worm farm where we were allowed to wander among the employees and take up close photos. This was one of the highlights of the trip and we learned a lot about the business and silk creation process.

Next came the beautiful Buddhist pagoda and the elephant waterfall. We spent about half an hour at each place – this was a little short but it was doable. After this we ate lunch which cost 90,000 VND each – the cost wasn’t included but it was worth the price. There was a veggie option for just 80,000.

Next came the cricket farm where we got to try some crickets and finally we went to a Weasel Coffee Plantation. The coffee is made by feeding weasels coffee beans (they only eat the biggest ones) and they are cleaned, dried and peeled after they are pooped out. This is the most expensive coffee in the world, although personally, I don’t taste a huge difference between regular and pooped-out coffee. But I’m no coffee expert!

All in all, the trip was great and well worth the 250,000 VND (around $10) that we paid for it! It didn’t include lunch or coffee (60,000 VND per cup) though. I’d definitely recommend this tour to anyone who wants try experience something new!

Why is Da Lat the Coolest City in Vietnam?

Da Lat is located in the south of Vietnam about 7 hours north of Ho Chi Minh City. I might be biased after living in Prague for 20 years and coming to Da Lat from Mui Ne, a city that I really didn’t like. As soon as I got out of the sleeper bus and absorbed the European vibe of this otherwise typically Vietnamese city, I was hooked!

The narrow houses that can be found all throughout Vietnam have European looking facades in Da Lat. Although you might get run-over by motorcycles when you cross the road to get to the beautiful train fountain in the old part of the city, the view from the lake screams Switzerland, not Vietnam.

Originally, we had only planned on spending two days in the city but we extended our stay the moment we checked into our hostel and saw their tour book. Turns out that Da Lat had a lot more to offer than a European vibe and delicious avocado smoothies. Canyoning, waterfalls and unique Gaudi-esque structures are only a few reasons to visit Da Lat.

Our first day tour was ridiculously cheap and thorough. We visited the rose plantation, silk worm farm, cricket farm, a minority village where male and female roles are reversed, a Buddhist temple and the elephant waterfall. But I’ll tell you more about the half-day tour of Da Lat next time…

The biggest surprise in the tour book, and the reason that so many visitors come to the seemingly remote Vietnamese city, is canyoning. Also known as canyoneering, canyoning is basically a trek through a canyon than involves some cliff jumping and abseiling down waterfalls. Although I’m terrified of heights, we signed up for the tour and I ended up surviving despite lots of sweating, crying and only a little bit of blood shed.

If you hate adventures, Europe and hectic tours, you might still want to come to Da Lat for their coffee and avocados. Turns out that all avocados in Vietnam, and even some neighboring countries, come from Da Lat! July happens to be the season when avocados are being sold everywhere for cheap and we took full advantage of that!

Make sure to take the time to wander through the market in town. If you’re persistent enough, you will stumble upon a small cafe that serves the best avocado smoothie in the world! Unlike the ones I tried in Indonesia and the Philippines, this smoothie included coconut milk and a scoop of durian ice cream that made it unique, delicious and sinfully calorific. But who counts calories on holiday?

Finally, Da Lat is also known for it’s coffee. Just like it’s avocado distribution, coffee from Da Lat is exported all over the world. If you visit the largest Starbucks in the World in Shanghai, you’ll even notice the Da Lat coffee of their signature wall featuring all the delicious coffees from around the world.

Vietnam is also known for its controversial “weasel poop coffee”. The animals who poop out the beans are in fact luwaks, not weasels and many countries in Eastern Asia call luwak coffee their own. We got a chance to try it at a picturesque coffee plantation that overlooked the countryside.

Although it was significantly more delicious than regular coffee, these animals are kept taken out of the wild and kept in cages and are almost exclusively fed coffee beans, which is very questionable if you’re into animal welfare. After doing more research, we wouldn’t drink the coffee again, but it was definitely an interesting cultural and culinary experience.

If you’re in Vietnam, make sure not to miss this unique city! Check out the videos on my YouTube Channel of the tours, paddle boats, cafes and other things you can experience in Da Lat.

Bali 2018: Seawalker Experience

For the underwater sea walker experience, our driver took us to a small beach on Turtle Island. This area is generally pretty controversial because of their treatment of turtles and other animals, so we skipped the animal experiences and went straight for the Sea Walking.

Upon arrival, we were sat down and shown a list of water activities and prices. The Seawalker experience was listed at $90 per person which is more than double what we’d read about online. We showed him a post on our phone with a much lower price, and he agreed to let us go for $40 each.

Remember, in Bali you can bargain anywhere! This whole setup reminded me of buying a used car, complete with the guy going to a back room to talk to his boss every time we asked for a lower price… In summary, don’t go for the listed price or you will get RIPPED OFF!

Next we were given a key to a locker, changed into swimsuits, and hopped on a 5-minute boat ride. We were a bit nervous to begin with but our guides reassured us and gave us a briefing on how the experience works. There were just a few simple rules: keep your head level, only look up, and don’t look down or your helmet will fill with water.

Even if that happened though, they said we could just look up again and the helmet would fill with air. Oh, and remember that a thumbs-up gesture doesn’t mean everything’s good, it means TAKE ME UP NOW I’M FREAKING OUT! If you want to say you’re OK, use the OK symbol.

After putting on water shoes and getting in the water, they lowered huge weighted helmets onto our heads. They must have weighed 50 pounds each because we immediately were immediately pulled down.

Climbing down slowly, we kept having to pop our ears to equalize the pressure. If you’ve never been deep under water before, it’s easy. Just stick your hand inside the helmet, plug your nose, and blow out. This should do the trick.

When we got to the bottom we had a few minutes to get used to breathing in the helmet, walking without looking down, and just the sheer craziness of the whole situation. From there we were free to roam around a bit, taking selfies with the thpousands of fish surrounding us.

I said earlier that we avoided the controversial animal activities, but it turned out that this experience wasn’t exactly environmentally friendly either. The guide took out fish food and let us hand-feed it to the fish, which was cool, but we couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty for intruding on their environment. But on a scale of seeing animals in the wild to exploiting animals in the circus, this was closer to the former.

After being hand-fed for a while by humans, these fish have been domesticated and probably wouldn’t survive without us, but at least they’re not caged in at an aquarium. It was a lot of fun, but we probably wouldn’t do it again because of the impact on the fish.

After 10 minutes of Ooooing and Ahhhhing at the fish and coral, the guide signaled that it was time to go up. I was starting to feel a bit like Darth Vader in the helmet, so that was enough time for me.

This was a once in a lifetime experience, and we’re still on the fence about the impact on the environment. If you decide to go on a sea walk, just keep in mind that you’re guests in the fish’s home, try not to disturb their surroundings.

For more adventures in Bali and around the world, follow The Travel Bug Bite!

Worst Bus Ride Ever: Mui Ne to Da Lat “Sleeper Bus”

After having an amazing experience taking a Sleeper Bus from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne, we expected another great bus ride from Mui Ne to Da Lat. We could not have been more disappointed.

We had booked the bus with Vietnam Bus Tickets over a month in advance but decided to leave Mui Ne earlier than planned. Although the website claims that tickets are not refundable and changing them is not guaranteed, we had no problem calling the company and changing to an earlier time.

This was the second time we successfully changed our reservation with the company that was nothing but amazing until this very moment. When we arrived at the agreed-upon pick up location, the staff knew about the change we made over the phone and the bus arrived on time. Since we changed our tickets last minute, we expected to get bad seats so we wouldn’t have complained about being stuck in the back, if only it had been the sleeper bus we paid for…

The road from Mui Ne to Da Lat is full of twists, turns and endless bumps. Unlike the previous bus we had taken with this company, this one was old and extra rickety. I still don’t know how it made it up the steep hills but I can’t forget the bruises the ride left on my arms. There was also no free water on this bus, which we expected, so we were thirsty for over two hours until we came to a rest stop.

As tempted as we were to buy some fresh bananas to curb our hunger, we were too worried about throwing up on the bus and stuck to water. It was impossible to read on the bus or even rest our heads against anything since the vibration and constant jerking was felt even through my neck pillow. It was a horrible five hours full of “are we there yet”s and loud music that we played in attempt to distract us and make time go faster.

We used this company one more time on the trip and had a much better experience so overall, Vietnam Bus was a good and reliable way to get around. I’d recommend it to others with the warning that not all of their buses are comfortable.

It’s best to call ahead and find out if the bus you’re on really is the VIP sleeper bus that you’re expecting and change to a different bus if they can guarantee comfort. I’m the type of person who stays at hostels and will sleep on the floor of an airport without complaint, so believe me when I say that a bus ride was the worst bus ride of my life and absolutely unbearable.

Check out the mixed reviews of Vietnam Bus on TripAdviser.

Cebu 2018: Bus from Cebu City to Dalaguete

To get from Cebu City to Dalaguete, we had to take a 3 hour bus from the Cebu South Bus Station. We weren’t given too much information, except that the buses leave all the time and the internet didn’t give us any useful details either. Luckily, our taxi driver pointed us in the right direction.

We got there just as a bus to Dalaguete was boarding. The seats of the old, not air-conditioned bus were already full but people kept getting on. Once the bus was stuffed to the brim, it departed. The line we were in was already long enough to fill another two buses. After half an hour of waiting, sweating and waving away people selling bottled water and snacks, we decided to see if there was a different bus.

I stayed in the constantly growing line while my friend walked around the bus station looking for some nicer air-conditioned buses. We had watched several drive by, teasing us by slowing down right in front of us giving us just enough time to peek in at all the comfortable people relaxing in large seats, some watching a movie on large HD screens.

My friend returned with exciting news of a different line that will guarantee a set on a nice bus to Dalaguete! We grabbed our luggage and shuffled out of the sweaty line to get to a waiting area with a row of seats zigzagging towards the entrance of the building. Every few seconds people got up and shuffled down a few seats – a sitting line was already an improvement!

We spent about an hour in the sitting line that seemed to lead to three different buses. When Dalaguete was called, we followed other people and got onto a bus. With three seats squeezed into what should have been two, no TV, no air con and hundreds of people piling on, we sadly realized that we spent an extra hour waiting for exactly the same bus we would have been on if we had stayed in the previous line.

The next four hours, that should have been three, were spent squished among locals with the window cranked open to let in pollution which was still better than suffocating if the windows were closed. The bus spent ages in traffic, while the driver let on sellers who shook their products in our faces to try to get us to buy something.

The moment we left the traffic of Cebu City the driver drove at ridiculous speeds down dangerous roads dodging motorcycles and stray dogs! Once again, we laughed through the continuous fails that seemed to haunt us on the trip. It’ll get better once we’re in Dalaguete, we said to each other naively. There will be no fails in paradise…

To be continued…

For info about the buses at Cebu South Bus Station, check out their official website. If you don’t find what you need, ask your hostel or Airbnb hosts for tips. Otherwise, the people at the bus station do speak English and will be more than happy to help you!

http://www.cebu.gov.ph/cebu-south-bus-terminal-bus-schedules/