Da Lat Countryside Tour: Weasel Poop Coffee Plantation

The last stop on our $10 Countryside Tour of Da Lat was the weasel poop coffee plantation. The first thing you should know about it, is that the animal that eats and poops out the coffee bean is not actually a weasel. It’s a luwak. The second thing you need to know is that it’s not unique to Vietnam no matter what the guide will tell you.

How the concept of weasel poop coffee was discovered, I don’t know and I’d like to keep it that way. Basically, the animal eats coffee beans and chooses only the best ones to eat. This ensures that all the coffee that comes out of the process, pun intended, is of the highest quality. While it’s inside the weasel, it gets fermented which adds to the flavor.

Once it’s pooped out, the beans are collected and dried in the sun. Then they are thoroughly washed and finally, they are carefully peeled. So the actual coffee been was never in contact with the poop, only it’s shell was. That makes it a lot less gross, right?

Well, the grossest part of the entire process isn’t the poop but the treatment of the animals. They are kept in tiny cages and only fed coffee beans. At this particular plantation you can see a bunch of these luwaks in their cages and they don’t look particularly clean or happy. Although I tried the coffee at the time, I wouldn’t do it again because of the exploitation of these animals. But I’m not here to preach animal rights!

As I previously mentioned, Vietnamese people will claim that weasel coffee originated in Vietnam. It’s just like pierogi in Europe. Russians, Ukrainians, Poles and probably several other nationalities claim that the dumplings originated from their country. As a Ukrainian I will tell you that duh, they are Ukrainian. But I’m clearly biased…

Several other countries in South East Asia, including Indonesia will claim that luwak coffee is theirs. In Bali I visited a coffee plantation that claimed the coffee as their own and I’m willing to bet that Indonesia isn’t the only place that tries to take credit for it. Then there’s Thailand that does the same thing with elephants and every single of these countries will also boast that their coffee is the best and most expensive in the world.

Back to the Da Lat coffee plantation. The multi-floored building was beautiful, smelled amazing and had the most spectacular view of the mountains and coffee fields. We drank some coffee, did some souvenir shopping on the top floor and pet all the cute dogs. Apparently the owner loves to rescue dogs and there were at least 20 living at the coffee plantation. I wonder if dog poop coffee will ever become a trend…

The entire Da Lat Countryside tour about 6 hours and included a rose garden, minority village, Buddhist pagoda, elephant waterfall, lunch, silk farm, cricket farm and the weasel poop coffee plantation. It was an informative and fun tour and our guide was enthusiastic and insightful. I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone visiting Da Lat, but remember to haggle if they try to charge you more than $10 per person.

At the end of the tour they made sure to ask if we wanted to get dropped off at our hotels or somewhere else and most of the group ended up at the famous Crazy House. We decided to check it out too and had a great time. I’ll tell you all about it next time, so stay tuned!

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Da Lat Countryside Tour: Cricket Farm

The second to last stop on the $10 Da Lat Countryside Tour was a cricket farm! Forget what your mother told you when you were a toddler sticking bugs in your mouth. They DO belong there! As long as they are raised for human consumption, that is.

Crickets are a great source of protein and contain enzymes that some scientists believe can cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Millions of people in the world are eating insects this very second and the United Nations is trying to encourage more people to start eating them! Other than the health benefits, the environmental impact of switching from cattle to crickets is unbelievable. You can read more about that here.

Unlike most of the people on the tour, my husband and I have done our fair share of cricket eating. Although they are not our favorite insect to snack on, we were excited to see the farm and eat some cricket-enhanced snacks!

The farm was much smaller than we expected, which made perfect sense. It takes very little space, not to mention resources, to farm crickets. The crickets are kept in large tubs that they can’t jump out of and they are fed banana leaves. They are organized in tubs based on their age and are starved for three days before they are ready to be eaten.

After walking around the farm and seeing the different stages of growth, we were sat at a large round table. First, we took a shot of rice wine, a common tradition in Vietnam before a group meal. Then we moved on to tea and crickets! The crickets were deliciously fried and almost everyone in the group gave them a try.

Isaac and I probably ended up eating the most, but we did share with a little kitten that lived on the farm and seemed to love fried crickets even more than we did. Before leaving for the last part of the tour, Isaac bought a bag of cricket chips and if it had been cheaper, he would have bought the cricket-infused rise wine too.

Fun fact: if you think insects are yucky and that you’ll never try them, keep in mind that you already have. I’m not talking about the spiders that supposedly crawl into your mouth when you sleep – yuck, that better be a myth. If you’re a fan of beer, bread or cereal it is likely that you eat at least a hundred insects a year. Look into it if you don’t believe me! Also, a lot of red dyes used in food are made from a red beetle. Carmine is a great alternative to the many common dyes that are tested on animals that are then euthanized.

Next stop: coffee plantation!

Da Lat Countryside Tour: Buddhist Pagoda & Elephant Waterfall

The third part of the $10 Countryside Tour of Da Lat was the Buddhist Pagoda and the Elephant Waterfall. The first part of the tour included the rose garden and minority village and the second part was the silk factory. This half day tour was a great way to discover Da Lat, Vietnam!

The Elephant Waterfall was the reason we came to Da Lat on our Vietnam trip in the first place. The two things we didn’t know about were the fascinating Buddhist pagoda located right next to the waterfall and the challenging climb down to the waterfall itself. But let me start with the Buddhist pagoda!

Linh Phuoc Pagoda is often overlooked by tourist rushing to the waterfall nearby. It is a beautiful Buddhist pagoda with a large statue of Buddha in the courtyard. I wish I could have spent an hour exploring the area but I only have 20 minutes! In addition to the pagoda and statues in the courtyard, there was a beautiful display of flowers with dozens of colorful butterflies fluttering all over the place.

One thing that I love about Buddhist temples is that they don’t care about what you are wearing. I was wearing a skimpy dress (with leggings!) that revealed my cleavage and my husband wore a white t-shirt with green shorts. I asked the guide if it was really okay for us to enter dressed the way we were, and she reassured us that in Buddhism all that matters is what’s inside our hearts not what we are wearing.

After rushing to explore the pagoda, we got back on the bus and drove to the waterfall which is just a few minutes away. As soon a we got there we saw a myriad of stairs and out of breath tourists who just left warning us to wear good shoes. I glanced at my husbands flip flips and my $1 Chinese sandals and shrugged. It would have to do.

The way down wasn’t easy. It was wet, muddy and slippery. Several times, I needed people to help me and we had to make frequent breaks to let people come up the one-way path. What reassured me was the three brides, who all wore sneakers under their poofy princess dresses. If they could handle it, then so could I!

We finally made it down, behind an old man who almost lost the camera that was in his back pocket. It fell out just as he was climbing over a steep rock but we managed to catch it before it was swept away by the river.

Many of the people who were coming down with us stopped at the first viewpoint but we were determined to reach the bottom! Climbing to the very bottom was challenging but offered an amazing view. For the extra adventurous, you can limb onto rocks in the middle of the river and balance on a rock with just the view of the powerful waterfall with the mist spraying over your face.

I had some trouble with my cheap shoes and colorful dress that I didn’t want covered in mud. If I could do it again, I would suggest dressing more athletically and being prepared to get dirty. Maybe even bring a change of clothes. Climbing back up the hill was actually easier than making it down. There was free tea and a tap to wash off our feet at the top. Some of the people in on our tour didn’t join us and I’m sure they regret it.

Don’t miss out on this great experience! If I made it wearing a flimsy dress and cheap shoes while holding my GoPro in one hand, then you can too!

Next up: cricket farm and coffee plantation!

 

Da Lat Countryside Tour: Silk Farm

The second stop on the $10 Countryside Tour in Da Lat was the silk farm! This stop came after the rose farm and the minority village where gender roles are reversed and gigantic spiders roam. You can read more about the first part of the tour here.

Silk is made by silk worm pupae that create a cocoon out of silk. To extract the silk, the cocoons are boiled and machines are used to unravel the silk and collect it. It is then turned into balls of fine silk. If the pupae were to hatch, the silk would be damaged which is why it is necessary to kill the pupae in the process of harvesting silk. Luckily, these pupae are considered a delicacy and are sold for food once they are removed – nothing goes to waste!

This entire process was explained to us at the silk farm. We got to touch the cocoons and see every step of the silk making process! We were also told some interesting facts, such as there is no such thing as 100% silk. Silk is extremely fine and if it was used on it’s own to create a scarf, it would fall apart immediately. Anything claiming to be over 80% silk is probably fake – at least that’s what we were told at this farm.

It was incredibly fascinating to walk among the workers and look over their shoulders. They were very nice and let us stick our cameras and GoPros right into their work. There was a conveyor belt that sorted the cocoons, washed them and prepared them for harvesting.

Another lady, wearing a typical Vietnamese rice hat, took the dead pupae out of the silk and put it in a bucket to be taken to the market. Silk worm pupae are a popular food across Asia, including China. Even in Shanghai, where insects are considered gross and not food, silk worms can be found in restaurants.

They seem to be in a separate food category and are commonly served spicy on a stick. You’re supposed to peel the skin off and only eat the inside but I prefer to eat the entire insect, chili-pepper free.

If you’re wondering where eating insects stands now that I’ve adopted an almost vegan diet, well, I’m confused about that myself. I still feel like eating insects, especially those that you farm yourself, isn’t as cruel as eating animals. Especially since some scientists believe that they don’t feel pain. Either way, eating insects is not vegan and although there are entovegans who incorporate insects into their otherwise vegan diets, it’s a very controversial topic.

Anyway, back to the silk farm! Silk is another popular business in Da Lat and silk trade is a blossoming business. Real silk is incredibly expensive, so beware of cheap silk on your trip to Vietnam. It is likely that the silk is fake or that the percentage of silk in the product is very low.

Next stop: Buddhist pagoda and the Elephant waterfall!

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!

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!