Since Sai Gon was inundated with tide and storm water when summer hit, we ran away to the mountainous highlands. We, I mean, are a horde of youngsters who are both single and available (except a couple of couples under our auspices, really?). Anyway, we packed up all necessities, say, a few clothes, a treasure trove of make-up tools for all of us (excuse us, men need make-up, too) and a heartful of love and wanderlust. Money, also? Momo, zalo-pay first, please. With a handful of fresh cash, we threw a blitzkrieg in Don Duong và Lam Ha, two adjacent districts of Lam Dong province.
Why Don Duong and Lam Ha?
First off, a brief sneak peek should facilitate your comprehension of why we wanted to go to these two districts, aka the core meaning of the trip. It wasn’t spontaneous at all, but so appreciated of a trip for all of the group members, because our group (Chủ Nhật Yêu Thương, or CNYT) bought tons of vegetables from local farmers in the districts during the dark time of Covid-19 - 2021, in a mission to support both farmers elsewhere and people in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Sai Gon for short), the latter of whom were fed with fresh clean veggies during their blockade and the former were saved from bankruptcy. As things are now back to normal, we just wanted to pay tribute to the farmers, so there came such a road trip.
Don Duong - the first stop
The first stop was Don Duong. Located in the northeast of Di Linh plateau, with an altitude of over 1,000m, the district has three main types of topography, i.e., high mountain, gently undulating hilly terrain, and river valley. The luxuriance of soil, that is, alluvial soil (from rivers and streams), red brown soil on basalt, yellow-red soil on shale, red-yellow humus gzanite and daxit, nourishes plantations of agriculture and forestry and sustains the livelihood for the local dwellers of ethnic minorities such as K'ho, Chu Ru, Ede, Nung, Tay, Hoa, and Cham (apart from Kinh people). Don Duong & Duc Trong of Lam Dong province are places with the largest tomato area in Viet Nam, and Don Duong is the capital thereof. Besides, the district mainly cultivates industrial plants such as coffee, tea, pepper, and mulberry, alongside with short-term plants, say, vegetables and fruits.
Beleaguered in the bus for a night on the go, we felt so fatigued and sleepy (due to lots of bumps on the road) that we fled off like a bird set free once the bus arrived at a vegetable field.
The morning was breaking, splashing lemon-yellow sun beams over the horizon formed by the mountain range as if a fortress. Clouds still veiled the sky looking like soap foaming on a car before being washed. Our senses were set agog as the scenery was laid out front. A vast meadow of lush green veggies spread out wide from both sides of the causeway as the thoroughfare. Such a great plain is divided into square parcels for different crops, and the contour of which is paved with a small earth path where grass grow at both sides.
Swampy odor smelled quite pungent yet quirkily pleasant to us, urban prisoners, as mixed with crop fragrance and chilly climate of the Highlands. Bouts of breeze swept over the place and carried such natural aroma to fill our lungs. The sky beamed brighter as the sun was ascending while the clouds gradually melted away, leaving room for sunshine in refraction.
The whole backdrop looked like a Van-Gogh-ish piece of art – totally picturesque and mesmerizing.
We all went berserk with excitement as feasting our eyes over the green pasture. What a blithe morning! How idyllic it was! Though emaciated through a bumpy night, we seemed fully energized after taking a deep breath of fresh cool air in the countryside. A smiling woman greeted us from afar, waving her hand and cajoling as though she met her long-lost beloveds. Our elation met her warmth of joy and welcoming. She led us to her field where there were 2 other farmers were harvesting watercress. They cocked their heads to witness the clutter of fraternity in contrast to the rural tranquility.
Now and then saw a fleet of photo-maniac infantry armed with classy iPhones, maneuvering a coup de main all over the impoverished territory. The hustle and bustle of the city life was left behind in oblivion, only the enormous enthusiasm filled every atom of the atmosphere. The group poured out to the grassy ground, trotting here and there to pose and take photos to bolster their social media clout.
The sun shone brightly over the cerulean vault of heaven above and some of us started to seek shelter. It was time to head away for breakfast. We drove to Thanh My, the capital of Don Duong and visited a local house where breakfast was already prepared by the farmers. Fresh veggies and hot chicken soup were such haute cuisine for those hungers as we were that morning.
When belly was full and throat no more thirsted, we hopped on the bus to pay a visit to Chu Ru Ethnical-Cultural Village. Nestled under the canopy of lush trees, the site exhibits a few stilt houses exemplifying the ethnical housing style on the windy hill side looking over a hydropower dam.
The vicinity of the lake grew boisterous as we played the Wolvesville card game, therein squabbling and arguing to win one’s stand, either on the bad-guy team or the innocent. Lollygagging awhile, the gang headed to the bus and drove back to the local house for lunch and getting ready to bid farewell.
The postprandial rest soothed our exhaustion after a hardly-sleepy night, the trip en route to Lâm Hà began in peace for everyone ended up dozing off along the way. The excitement vanished in a vacuum ad interim, awaiting another burst of laughter to come.
Lam Ha - the second stop
Lam Ha is actually a blend word of Lam Dong (the local province) and Ha Noi (the capital of Viet Nam whence most people moved to Lam Dong for pursuit of livelihood back in the 80s,) so the local dwellers are northern people of Kinh ethnic, in addition to a minority of other ethnical groups, say, K'Ho, Ma, Tay, Nung and so on. The local economy relies on plantation of industrial crops, including coffee, tea, pepper, mulberry, then recently, passion fruits, macadamia and various vegetables.
Visit a friend
One beautiful member of the group invited us to pay a visit to her family as if we were invited to her wedding to her white-horse prince. Nope, she’s still single and unapologetically picky as to who to marry, which is legitimate to do, right?
As the bus stopped on the roadside and buffed us all out, we unloaded belongings and darted straight to the kitchen for fixing dinner. Lest the climate hinder our adventure, we decided to go to pick passion fruits and jackfruits before dusk.
The local slopy terrain hosts lots of secret gardens through which we trespassed with bated breath. Our eyes opened wide so as to capture the whole scene, our skin touched everything on the way through coffee plantations and a bunch of scars imprinted fresh on our legs and arms. Even the air we breathed, albeit smelly due to polluted swine farms around town, ensorcelled us with blissful attachment.
We thus wished to maximize our experiences when already set foot on the Highlands, and lucky us, my friend's family economy partially relies on the sericulture - the cultivation of silkworms to produce silk. The leader mobilized the whole gang to the mulberry garden to collect leaves as food for the worms.
Acta non verba!
Right, action speaks louder than words, and here we go. A coterie of scobberlotchers and stampcrabs attacked the leafy mulberry garden adjacent to the house, in a gung-ho manner like pigs in muck. This was a sui generis work of labor none of us ever did before, so everyone felt complacent to give it a go. Some even uprooted a mulberry tree or two unbeknownst to the host, who, I think, was not even in a chafe if learned of that incident.
We collected 3 big bags of leaves and dragged them all inside a nearby shelter to feed the silkworms. Mulberry silkworms can be categorized into three different but connected groups or types, say, univoltine, polyvoltine and bivoltine. Like in China, Japan, and Korea, the bivoltine type is normally raised and cultivated in Viet Nam.
Those lazy-arse worms were squirming and wriggling all over the leaves, swallowed bit by bit and hung around. There was a sleeping net stretching from 4 corners to protect the worms from flies or any pernicious insects, roddents and birds. We unloaded the leaves out of the bags, then chopped a handful of them asunder to feed the worms and covered the rest to keep them moist and fresh. Nobody dared to speak aloud as warned in advance to keep silent so that the worms could enjoy their meal and sleep through, for they have only a dozen of days to live their lives prior to cocooning to make silk material. We did it in respect.
Gaudeamus igitur iuvenes dum sumus!
Mulberry leave collection and silkworm feeding in Lam Ha, Lam Dong.
Speaking about strong emotion, the host family seemed quite aflutter to guess who, among us, was the groom to be. Nobody. Err, nope. What about that guy? Yes, there was one single guy going so energetic that he stood out, put his sleeves up and started to banquet the whole gang, as telling evidence that no one else could be that excellent of a candidate as he was.
I had nothing to complain about that, if not even better, was emancipated from all the chores from that time going. I partook of every dish, enjoyed futzing with other group members and laughed and played along the whole night as we gathered in a circle and sang with the guitar. The atmosphere felt really chilly, especially when the plateau misted at the nightfall and deep in darkness.
The morning broke again, and I woke up in tiredness after a patchy sleep with the ambience of a snoring concert. You know, people get dead tired after a long road trip and a day full of excursions, so they slide into painful sleep, snore and snore through the night. Never mind because it didn’t make me irate.
The breakfast was delicious. And we spent 2 hours after that doing make-up to prep for a morning hangout. Since we would cavort al fresco, nobody wanted to scrimp on cosmetic stuff, especially sun-cream. Some female members who couldn't sleep a wink the night on the road, even dared to wear more facial powder or so, and they were really in their element at that job.
A couple of guys came to join the cohort in order to masquerade their flaws to be more photogenic. As a raggabrash, I slouched on the coach in lieu of being a busybody railing at their enervating exertions. The desire for that pernickety grind to be done pronto notwithstanding, other guys held themselves incommunicado with their cellphones to suss out anything interesting to binge-watch, and as way to show their complaisant patience and respect to the make-up crew.
Such a razzle-dazzle show curtained at last and every cast member looked amazing! Toujours perdrix!
And without further ado, let's go!
We then drove to “La Vela eco-park” – a scenic café and accommodation in Lâm Hà, which set up plethora of photographic corners, either lonely benches for a sit pose or the whole water reservoir for lake-view photo-shots. My stomach churned as though allergic to the weather, so I wound up sitting in the hall and sipping a cup of coffee. Other gang members scattered here and there to shoot a photo album and video-record a tik-tok dance.
A school of white clouds swam in the sky, reflecting themselves in the mirror-like lake surface. The greenery adds a touch of serenity and colorful flowers complements the mountainous back country. That astonishing backdrop prevailed in every photo my group took at that café, which became quite commonplace and chintzy now, so we were in dire need of another marvelous backdrop.
Then came another café called Long Dinh Organic Tea where visitors can book a room to stay, or just buy an entry ticket and go have a cup of tea/coffee while spreading eyes over the green tea terraced field and toward a lake downhill. We didn’t have much time to spend, so we summoned at the entrance which is fringed with purple-flowered tree ranges curbing a solid concrete path down to the lake.
The summer heat, though mildly moderated as in the Highlands, embarrassed us, not to mention the café staff dabbling in and out as a reminder that you must buy the tickets (!) (we noticed but didn’t feel like doing so, fine?!) As soon as the phones ran out of battery, the group ducked out tout de suite. It isn’t fair to do so, we know, and we regretted doing it, too. Perhaps we’ll get back and buy the tickets next time (as a promise – sure?)