Thursday, March 8, 2012

Motorbike Ride in the Mountains

Finally, we spent almost the entire day riding motorbikes today. We picked them up around 9:00 am this morning and away we went into the mountains in and around Da Lat, Vietnam.

We spent the morning north of Da Lat in the flower growing region. Da Lat is reportedly the flower growing capital of Vietnam. There are literally thousands of greenhouses, and you can smell the flowers as you ride past some of the farms.

We rode about an hour up into the mountains, then left the paved road and followed a new stone road back up the side of a mountain until we arrived at a new state park under construction. We stopped and visited with the park employees for a while.

After refreshments and potty breaks, we rode back into Da Lat for lunch. We stopped at a restaurant downtown beside the lake and enjoyed fresh strawberry milkshakes (basically puréed strawberries) and an assortment of local dishes. Imagine our surprise when we found out that our waitress was a Christian girl who regularly attends the United Methodist Church in Da Lat!

We left her a big tip... She left us with tears in her eyes. What a blessing for all of us. After lunch, we hooked up with another local girl who also attends the church in town, and she took us on the adventure of a lifetime!

For over an hour we rode our motorbikes out into the mountains, through small isolated villages and deep into banana and coffee fields. Eventually we stopped at a coffee plantation to check out the coffee plants.

The owner of this particular plantation lived nearby, so we stopped to take a tour of his processing plant. In one part of the farm they were fermenting rice to make rice wine...

In another part of the farm we found cages of ferrets, or weasels. Now, you might ask, what do weasels and coffee have in common? Let me tell you a tale. Seems on this particular farm, they feed the coffee beans to the weasels, then wait for them to 'poop' the beans back out. They then collect these pooped beans...

Then...the process these weasel pooped beans into the most expensive coffee in the world! This 'weasel poop coffee' is considered a delicacy, and sells on the world market for around $5,000 per pound! Take that Starbucks!

Well, needless to say, we all chipped in 50,000 dong apiece (that's about $2.50 per person) and were given a small sample cup of fresh 'weasel poop coffee'!

We decided nothing else could top that, so after our coffee break, we turned our bikes back toward Da Lat for the hour long ride to our hotel. We treated our guide to a fine supper of pizza at the V Cafe as thanks for introducing us to such fine cuisine!

Tomorrow begins bright and early as we board our busses at 6:30 am for a long ride into Ho Chi Mihn City.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Road to Da Lat

On the road again... This morning we left DaNang and the coast of the South China Sea and headed west into the Vietnamese mountains. The trip was both exhilarating and nauseous! The roads winded around and through the steep mountain passes, passing through small mountain villages along the way.

The scary part was when trucks or busses would pass vehicles, even on the curves! And in most places, the roads are narrow, not well paved, and guardrails are not always present!

We stopped atop a mountain pass to stretch our legs and check out the view... And boy, what a view of the mountains around us and the valley below!

We continued our journey, bouncing through several more villages along the way to Da Lat. As we approached Da Lat, we found ourselves in the midst of many very large coffee plantations.

Then, as we approached the city, we found ourselves in the middle of the flower growing capital of Vietnam. This one picture comes nowhere close to showing how many flower greenhouses we passed along the way.

Finally, we entered the city of Da Lat, a high altitude resort city. It is much cooler here due to its mountain locale, and the breeze through the city is delightful. We checked into our hotel around 2:30 pm, and immediately set out to explore the streets around us. It didn't take long to find a huge indoor-outdoor flea market/bazaar. Check out these next few photos...

Around 6:00 pm, we gathered for supper. Most of the group opted for another traditional Vietnamese dinner of fish, pork, chicken, prawns, and of course, rice. A few of us instead opted for pizza! Yes, there is a wonderful little place called the V Cafe that's specializes in surprisingly good pizza and live music. We ate our fill and enjoyed the entertainment.

We will be spending the night here in Da Lat, and tomorrow we will be renting motorbikes to spend the day riding in around the city and nearby mountains of Da Lat. Continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers... Lots to explain when we get back home.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Road to DaNang

This morning we finished breakfast and once again boarded our two buses to continue our journey south. Our destination today is DaNang, about 300 kilometers away, a bus journey that will take us about 7 hours.

We are entering a very mountainous region, and the roads are not very good... Lots of hills, curves, and switchbacks as we follow the coast of the South China Sea. Lots of traffic also, with cars and trucks passing each other even on the curvy mountain roads! It can be quite exciting at times.

It is a beautiful, bright sunny, and very warm day. Temps are in the low 90's with plenty of humidity. I think part of the humidity comes from the close proximity to the ocean. About an hour and a half south of Quy Nohn, we leave the main road and wiggle our way through the back country, through small villages and farms, until we come to an isolated fishing village.

We spend about an hour here taking pictures and exploring the rugged, rocky coast.

Along this coastal road are small farms, some even growing corn.

Eventually, we board our busses and wind our way back through the countryside until we find the main road. We continue south.

Around 1:00 pm we pull into the city of Tuy Hoa along the coast. Here we stretch our legs and have our lunch at a seaside resort diner. After lunch it's back on the bus.

After a couple more hours, we eventually arrive in the large city of DaNang. Lots and lots of traffic and a very crowded city as you can see by these next few pictures...

We check into our hotel and then set out for supper. At our restaurant are several groups of Russians. The group next to ours orders a Vietnamese delicacy, a snake. The bring a live snake to the table, cut off its head and drain the blood... Mix the blood in wine for drinking, and cut out the snake's heart for eating. I think it was fascinating, but it spoiled our supper!

After the entertains supper, we drift back to our hotel where everyone calls it a night after a long, hot and tiring day. Tomorrow we are headed to the resort area of Dalat.

Monday, March 5, 2012

From DaNang to Quy Nhon City

We arrived in DaNang on Saturday evening and checked into our hotel. Supper on our own so we ventured out and found a nice spot that served traditional as well as non-traditional food. Afterwards, we strolled along the river and watched children roller skating and couples out for an evening stroll.

Sunday morning dawned early and bright. After breakfast, the Vietnamese pastors began to arrive with the motorbikes! What a joyous reunion we had as we reintroduced ourselves to them. Many I recognized from two years ago, and I am glad to say they remembered me as well.

Karen and her husband Ut arrived in the new United Methodist van that was purchased by the Shawnee Valley in conjunction with the United Methodist Men National. Karen and Ut are Vietnamese Missionaries who work with the pastors out of Ho Chi Mihn City.

When Karen and Ut arrived, they brought some disappointing news... Due to a glitch in communications, we would not be able to ride the motorbikes this year. Instead, we would follow in two vans and do some sight-seeing along the way. Everyone was extremely disappointed, but we understand that we must follow the laws, so we packed into our vans and headed south.

Our first stop was a KFC in downtown DaNang. Can you say, "I'd like rice with my chicken?". After lunch we continued our journey south. The rest of the day was spent traveling along the coast of the South China Sea, dodging motorbikes, buses, and trucks along Highway 1!

The rice paddies here are very lush and green, unlike in the north where they were just being planted. In some areas rice was being harvested... The rice is separated from the stalk and laid out along the road to dry.

We arrived in Quang Ngai, a hotel near a rive, around 5:00 pm and checked into our hotel. Here, Karen and Ut had arranged for us a very traditional Vietnamese meal of fresh fruits and vegetables, prawn, chicken, beef, spring rolls, fish, and of course rice.

Everyone was tired and hot from spending the day in the vans, so most hit the air-conditioned bedrooms a little early. When we went to check out the next morning, the girl at the checkout came out from behind her counter and gave me a hug! She claimed I looked like her father, and she wanted me to have a picture of the two of us! So here it is...

We left the hotel around 9:00 am and continued south in our vans, sight-seeing along the way. Our next stop was about 170 kilometers (105 miles) away, but would take us about five hours because of the heavy traffic and not-so-good roads. We did stop at a little road-side place for a light lunch, then continued on our way. Just north of our hotel in Quy Nhon, we stopped at a shrine erected to one of the last Vietnamese kings. We were told that when the king would visit this area, this is where he would stay.

Finally around 4:00 pm, we arrived at a resort along the South China Sea in Quy Nhon. It is right on the beach and I am heading for the water in just a few minutes.

Continue to keep us and the Vietnamese pastors in your thoughts and prayers. Pray that God will continue to work miracles here.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ha Long Bay

Friday morning began early in Hanoi. Up at 6:30 am, another delicious fresh breakfast, then on the bus and on we go. Our destination is Ha Long Bay. It is about 110 miles away, but will take us some four hours to travel, partly because of the heavy Hanoi traffic, the bad roads, the 45 mile per hour speed limit, and the many small towns we pass through.

As we travel, we pass many rice paddies...some have individuals out working in the mud to tend their crops. We were told that the average farm in the north produces two rice crops per year, as compared to three crops per year in the south. No machinery, just manual labor, or an occasional water buffalo.

Hours later we arrive at Ha Long City. We leave our bus and board a small boat for our lunch cruise. Off we go into the bay, but our first order of business is lunch. The fare is traditional Vietnamese... Rice with fish, rice with beef, rice with chicken, rice with rice! The lunch is delicious.

We travel deeper into Ha Long Bay, an area of about 1,000 square miles with approximately 2,000 small islands, many of which are just rocks jutting up out of the water. We are told that between 7,000-9,000 people live here either on boats or small floating villages. Some of them never leave the water... They spend their entire lives here, having food and supplies delivered to them from the mainland.

We stop at one of the floating villages so some of the guys can kayak in and around the rocks and small islands. After they are done we travel farther into the bay until we arrive at an island with several caves. We spend the next few hours cave exploring, wearing ourselves out as we slug up and down stone steps and stairs.

Finally, we board our boat and head back to the shore. We arrive back in Ha Long City, and check into our hotel, which is just across the street from the beach. For supper, we found an Italian restaurant just down the street, where we had our fill of pasta, brad sticks, and pizza!

After supper, everyone is worn out. Back to our hotel and most are in bed by 9:30 pm, but it was an enlightening day. Tomorrow, it's back on the bus for a return trip to Hanoi, board a plane and a short flight to DaNang where we will finally meet with the pastors and pick up our motorbikes.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Images of Hanoi from March 1, 2012

Just giving you glimpses of what we encountered today...

Tomorrow we leave Hanoi and travel to Ha Lon Bay... Stay tuned for more...