My niece, Kaylee was visiting us in Singapore and part of her visit was a planned side trip to Vietnam to visit some friends we’ve made there.
We stayed at Thien An Hotel, the same Marie and I stayed in on the last visit and were just as happy this visit as with the last! We also rented a scooter to get around.
For those Americans hoping to visit Vietnam soon, there are a few things you should know. They recently changed the visa scheme for Americans and now all Americans are forced to purchase a multi-entry visa good for one year, at a cost of $135. You can still do a visa-on-arrival, but you will first need an approval letter before you even board the flight to get to Vietnam. We used evietnamvisa.com. They charge $40 to process the application for approval letter and send you a digital copy that you can print on a color printer and take with you. At the airport in Ho Chi Minh, find the area marked “Landing Visa” to obtain your VOA. You can find and download the form early and have it filled out, but be prepared for them to give you a new form—it happened to us. Also, complete one form per person, despite what they may say at the desk—that happened to us. Once you have your visa, you’ll have to exit the international airport and walk to the domestic terminal; about five minutes away.
We got to the hotel around 8, dropped off our bags and walked up the street for a quick bowl of soup before crashing after a long day of travel.
The next morning we enjoyed the continental breakfast at the hotel and while waiting for Josh to meet us there, we met Nick who was joining us at the farms. It turns out he was staying at the same hotel—he was easily identifiable by the aeropress hanging from his backpack. Once Josh arrived and Nick got his scooter arranged, we headed off to the hardware store to get a pair of galoshes for Kaylee and there we met Josh’s wife Rolan and we possed-up and headed to the farms.
Earlier in the week a tropical storm had travelled across the Philipines and the remnants of that system was still dumping rain on parts of Vietnam, including Dalat. The trails leading to the farms were narrow, steep, and muddy-as-hell. The scooter we had was a little 100cc bike that had a hard time getting two of us up the hill. Three or four times Kaylee had to get off the bike and I had to either ride solo or even dismount and push the bike while giving it gas to help. We also dropped the bike three or four times (sorry Mr. An!). Luckily no one was hurt and no damage was done—we were moving very slow and each time we either hit a rut or the front tire slid in the mud.
Our first stop was one of Rolan’s plots that they were developing. They built a new pond that will eventually be stocked with fish, they were still building a cook-shack, and they had places cleared to set up coffee de-pulping machines and drying racks. Given the nature of the trail into and out of the farms, its smart to process the coffee onsite, as 80% of the weight of fresh cherries is lost in the whole process. Hauling processed beans instead of freshly picked cherries means each trip gets farm more product down the hill.
For a coffee-focused writeup of the trip, read the post titled Coffee Origin Trip: Revisiting K’Ho Coffee on my coffee blog.
During our hike I had not one, but two blow-outs: the soles of both boots detached from the front.
I had some duct tape in my pack for situations such as this and I also used a length of twine I found on the farm to try to secure the worst of the damage, but the duct tape was too short and the twine was no help. After just a little bit of hiking back down the mountain, both gave out and I was back to square one. Luckily, we found a cobler in the basement of the Dalat Market and he was able to glue and stitch both soles back to the boot. VNC 50,000 or about $2.25 and three hours later, just like new.
These are Asolo boots and despite the damage and despite being ten years old, they still keep my feet dry as a chip!
After visiting the farms, we went to Josh and Rolan’s house to see the new roasting room and outdoor cafe they’ve built (and are already expanding). We also got to see some of the handicrafts the women of the village have made, including several woven blankets. In the image below, you can see two different ‘signature weaves’ of two different women. Using the signature weave, you can identify who wove which blanket:
We stuck around and had a coffee and a nice chat. Josh showed us around his garden and talked about his plans to introduce a new quality breed of coffee tree to some of the plots in the village. He was already prepping seeds from one of his trees. During our conversation, he mentioned concerns about introducing a new breed that may not be successful, or worse may be susceptible to disease. It’s very refreshing to meet someone with such humility and concern.
That evening, Kaylee and I had dinner near the hotel. We at at Pum BBQ, which has a large seating area right off the sidewalk. They bring a little charcoal BBQ to your table and bring you raw foods that you can cook yourself, similar to steamboat or hotpot. The BBQ had a little battery-operated fan attached to the side, which allows you to increase the heat of the coals. We enjoyed frog, chickent feet, and sausage kebabs and washed it all down with Saigon Special beer over ice. A perfect ending to a perfect day!
The next day was spent at the Dalat Market getting the boots fixed and poking around shopping a bit. North Face has a factory in Vietnam and there are several stalls at the market that sell North Face gear. We picked up a light jacket for Marie for VND 450,000, or about $22!
While riding around, we got caught in the rain and ducked into a local coffee shop where we hung out and played cards.
For dinner that night, we took a walk to see what we could find. We ended up walking clear to the market area and found a food cart selling one of my favorite Vietnamese soups: Bun Bo Hue. I had high expectations going in and wasn’t dissapointed and luckily neither was Kaylee!
After dinner we were headed home when we noticed a street closure and some performers dancing and singing, so we walked over to check it out and found that an entire section of downtown Dalat was closed off for a night market. Food carts were along the sidewalks and people had little booths set up to sell arts and crafts and trinkets. I asked the hotel owner about it the next day and he explained that this is done each weekend.
While we were at the market it started to rain and because there were so many people scattering, it was impossible to find a cab so we ended up walking home in the rain. It’s a good thing we had plenty of dry clothes at the hotel!
Our last full day in Vietnam was plenty relaxing. We started by hitting a couple of coffee shops. The first one we stopped at was The Muse and we stopped there because we were having a hard time finding the cafe we were looking for. Once we got our bearings and had a coffee, we headed to One More Cafe, a cafe that sells K’Ho coffee and was recommended by Josh.
While we were enjoying a coffee there, we noticed that it was supposed to rain for the next several hours, so rather than get caught in it, we camped out at the cafe blogging, surfing the web, etc. At one point the owner caught on that we were spending the day there and instead of running us out she offered for us to move upstairs where there is a comfy couch and a change in view, as well as several magazines to read. The rain stopped just in time for us to head out and meet the coffee gang for BBQ and beers at Khoi BBQ.