23 Jun 2009
So one of the other popular things to do in Vietnam, is take an Easy Rider Tour. The Easy Riders were originally a small group of guys on old motorbikes such as the Russian Minsk (much like the Russian favourite AK47, it can take a beating and will last the times) who began taking tourists for rides around Da Lat. Now, it is a huge tourist business, with loads of companies and private riders shouting for your business all over Vietnam on Hondas.
Motor Bikes are the main means of transport in Vietnam, (and pretty much Asia in general). The idea was made even more popular when the Top Gear gang went from Saigon to
Hanoi Ha Long Bay last year (I’ve only just managed to watch this ep, now Sep 09, and its great!) by bike alone… Mostly..
Because its such a big tourist business you really have to be careful who you go with. It’s hard to suggest anyone, but your best bet is to meet someone who has already been on a tour (and enjoyed it!) and get the contact of their guide. There are guys out there with crappy bikes, speak very little English, have suicidal tendencies, and don’t know anything about the places your visiting. If your lucky however, they’ll speak English, French and other languages, know loads of history, have a decent large bike, have been riding for years, and will show you an amazing and unique time.
For day trips, expect to pay $10-20, for longer trips, city to city and over night, expect $40-60 per day (incl acc and sometimes food). Make sure you agree on where you are going, what times, and exact costs! before you go.
I ended up going with a guide linked with our hotel, of which the manager was a former Easy Rider. His English was good and we worked out the exact plan before we left. He could also handle the bike which is fairly crucial! I really should have put my new jacket on but I didn’t want to unpack it for 1 day and then have it not fit in my bag again! I was also thinking of “Born to be wild” half the time on the bike haha.
First stop was the nearby Dragon Pagoda. There was a huge dragon statue, a small pagoda, temple, garden etc. He gave me information about the place and the story which some of the statues told. Check out Monkey Magic man!
Pretty much the best thing about Vietnam is the scenery. Even after having the shit blown out of it, the country is beautiful, and going by bike makes it that much better and easy to see. There are farms, crops, and rice paddies everywhere.
We stopped at a Rose garden, and they plant them in groups so they can collect every second day or so. Then at the Coffee Plantation he explained about the beans. The trees grow a sort of fruit, Coffee Cherries, which start green and are bright Red when Ripe. They pick them when they are still a little yellow, so they can collect them all at the same time, and before they become too attractive to animals! They are then dried, and the bean itself is removed from the fruit, this is what is roasted and becomes the Coffee Beans we know!
Next a small local village, that is quite unused to foreigners but are friends with the guide, and he makes the kids happy by bringing candy! A few of the kids were playing a game they made up with rocks and a chalk drawn board, and one was playing with a cicada and then suddenly just started pulling the poor thing apart! This was on the way to Elephant Falls, (I just read apparently its because of the 2 rocks at the base that look like tusks!) which you can climb down to and go behind! There is a “path” all the way, trust me, you just have to look for it at times.
Coming back to the top, two small kids, maybe 3years old, grabbed my hands and led me into the shop. They have no idea they are being groomed into the tourist world but how can you argue with these cute kids? They weren’t pushy inside the actual shop at least haha. Neighboring was another temple with a great white Buddha!
The second last stop was a Tea Plantation, and did you know that they pretty much use the same leaf for most teas and they simply add the flavors later on! And really cheap tea might not even have ANY leaves, just the stem.
Last up is a Rice Wine maker! He has two huge cookers, each producing about 80KG of cooked rice! This is then cooled, bagged with yeast, and left to ferment. The fermented rice is then re-cooked, and the alcohol boils into steam, rises, separating it from the water, and this vapor is collected and sold as Rice Wine!! The first to come out has a high percentage, around 70% (!!), lessens over time, and then averages out as it is all mixed together. He gave me a sip of some fresh alcohol and it tasted a little like grappa, AKA battery acid. Nasty.
He gets the hulls from coffee beans for free so he can use it for fuel to cook the rice, and they don’t go to waste. He then feeds the cooked rice (after the alcohol has been taken!) to some pigs he owns. So there is very little waste involved which is great, unfortunately the poor pigs are living in tiny pens.
After all this, back to town! It was a pretty good tour, but I think it would be much more entertaining to do it in a small group rather than just me and the guide. Or if you can ride take yourself for a spin!