On our third and final day, we "slept in" and started around 8:30. The plan was exciting: we were taking a set of roads so tiny and unkept that they don't show up on most maps (although Galileo had it! Ut and Bom were impressed). On these roads we'd see many groups of ethnic minorities and learn how the people of the highlands live.
We stopped at a farm with many trees planted in orderly rows. Around the trees were boxes. Bom stopped us at one tree with a bowl of white liquid attached to it, and we knew it was a rubber tree. We were getting good at this! Next he directed us over to a man walking amongst the boxes and as we got closer the sound gave it away: bees!
Karin was very happy to see a beekeeper. Her granddad was also a beekeeper and she loves bees and honey. We enjoyed watching the man check on the hives. He wasn't harvesting anything at the time, just inspecting and slicing extra wax off the combs, so it was safe to stand around and watch.
She asked if we could try the honey and he said yes, so we stuck our fingers directly in the honeycomb and got a taste of sweet homemade honey.
After that we hopped on the motorbikes to head for the highlands. It started raining so we put on the gear and I took some video because it was not intense enough going 80kph in the rain :)
We finally beat one set of clouds and it became easier to stop along the roads again. We came to a beautiful spot in between two mountains and as we pulled over I smelled something like vinegar. After our previous trips I'd become accustomed to noting the smells when we stopped; it can tell you a lot about what's happening in the area.
We were greeted by a friendly middle-aged man. He patted Ut on the back and had a chat for a bit before Ut began explaining what we had found. It turned out to be bamboo, prepared as a premium "organic" soup ingredient.
As farming has scaled in Vietnam, like any country they use pesticides and other chemicals to increase the yield, which has led to the same movement that you find in any western country. People want chemical-free food. In Vietnam especially I can understand the desire.
The man had several piles of bamboo almost as if he wanted to show them off for educational purposes. First, the harvested husks. Then, a set being boiled in order to soften them. After being boiled, a third batch was sun-drying on long tables. There were smaller boards holding partially dried pieces which were turning golden brown. And finally the finished product, extremely hard and mostly reminded me of a chewing jerky for dogs. Apparently it softens up again when cooked.
The bamboo farmer was really happy to talk to us and exchanged numbers with Ut in case he ever came to the "big city" in Da Lat. After showing us around the man's wife wanted to invite us for tea, but Ut was worried about the weather and told them we had a few more stops. I was impressed by this couple's absolute generosity in response to our unsolicited visit, and asked if we could take a photo with them.
They were happy to do so and only had one question: why if I am so healthy am I unable to produce children? Vietnamese either think Karin should be pregnant or they tell me I look pregnant, not sure which is worse :p
After the bamboo farm we stopped in the minority village. It was fun to play with the kids and very inefficiently communicate with a great-grandmother who was there. I observed a child do some Vietnamese spelling homework — their language is unique to their culture and sometimes even the settlement, so learning Vietnamese is a second language to them. The older adults Ut talked to had only basic Vietnamese skills and the conversations have to be slow and basic. I know that feeling from my first few months living in Germany!
That was our last major activity and we had rain clouds to race against, so it was back on the bikes in our rain gear and full speed ahead through the mountains.
After a grueling hour and a half on the bikes in the rain, we finally hit the main highway again and rewarded ourselves with lunch. It was delicious as usual, with fermented meat of some kind, seafood stir fry, shrimp and pork stir fry, and fried noodles for Karin. Topped off with iced coffee afterward of course!
The final stop was a brick factory very close to Nha Trang. We watched the clay get shaped by a machine, then a team of two transferred the bricks to a wheeled platform where they laid them out to dry in the sun. Ut, Karin and I helped transfer a platform full of bricks. The ladies whose job we took were happy but the man doing all the real hard work involving the clay machine seemed like he could do without us there ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
We got back on the bikes for our last leg, sad to see the trip come to an end after having such a fantastic time with Ut and Bom. They drove us down the coast toward Nha Trang and dropped us off at our hostel. We couldn't bear to say goodbye so we decided to meet up for coffee later for the real goodbye. It was a short visit though, since we knew they had to head back to Da Lat in the morning to find a new wave of tourists looking for the trip of a lifetime through Vietnam.
I have to say just one more time, if you're ever in Vietnam please do yourself a favor and take one of these Easy Rider motorbike tours. There simply is no other way to see how the majority of the Vietnamese live their lives. Not only do the cities shield you from the general type of work, but without a guide there is no way to befriend and learn from these hardworking, honest, friendly people. We felt so lucky to have taken this trip with Bom and Ut, and unfortunately these stories are the only small gesture of thanks I can offer them for their time and effort they spent showing us their view of Vietnam.