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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Vietnam | Dalat - Highlands & Coffee

Our days in Dalat were full of beautiful scenery and delicious coffee! Needless to say we had LOTS of energy while traveling in Dalat with the extra caffeine. We wanted to explore the countryside near Dalat, so we rented a motorbike for 50,000 VD and filled up the tank with 60,000 VD of gas and headed out for the day. It has been our cheapest motorbike yet, at only $2.50 for the entire day.

We first started to head north, hoping we might be able to get to Dak Lak Province, which is the largest coffee producing region in Vietnam. However, after we got about 25-30 km north of Dalat, the road we were traveling on turned from pavement to gravel and some of the locals we talked to said that the road continued to be gravel for about the next 20 km. As a result, we decided to forego the rocky road and instead turned around and headed back to Dalat City.

Vietnamese Coffee

Although we didn't get to the main coffee producing region of Dak Lak, which grows about 60% of the exported coffee from Vietnam, we did see several hillsides full of coffee trees. We also learned a few things about coffee production today and it was interesting to see the trees along the side of the road. There wasn't much action happening on these plantations because the harvest time is normally in late December in Vietnam and a lot of the work happens shortly after that time period.

But here is some fun Vietnamese coffee trivia for you!

  • The coffee bean is actually the seed of the coffee cherry, which grows on a tree

  • It takes about 3-4 years before the tree starts to bear fruit

  • Most of the cherries from the tree are picked by hand

  • Once the coffee cherries are picked they have to be processed immediately in order to avoid spoilage -- it is processed by either a dry or wet method.

  • The Beans must be dried, hulled and milled and are then called 'green coffee.' Soon after, the green coffee is exported.

  • The roasting of the beans does not happen until the beans reach the imported country. The roasting happens at the destination because it is best to get the roasted beans as quickly as possible to consumers. Roasting is also what gives the coffee the rich aroma.

  • Vietnam is the 2nd largest coffee exporting country behind Brazil

  • The most popular brand of coffee in Vietnam is Trung Nguyen, and this company alone averages 6 million cups of coffee everyday around the world. It is also holds a third of instant coffee market.

  • Trung Nguyen, dominated its home country's coffee market in just four years; Starbucks took 15 years! It is now trying to expand more in the US, France, Singapore and Japan.

  • Coffee appreciates up to 40 times just between the farm to the supermarket, and most of that added value goes to the traders. So there has been a focus on helping Vietnamese coffee growers get more value for their crop and also to grow a better quality crop so they can compete in top international markets.

These are the coffee trees:

These are the coffee cherries on the tree:

When you open the coffee cherries, the seeds are inside. These seeds are what is actually made into the coffee bean that we grind and drink for coffee. These seeds are just what it looks like before the drying and roasting.

While we were back in Dalat City, we grabbed some lunch from the local sandwich lady -- Alex had cheese and vegetables in a baguette and I had egg and vegetables in the baguette for only 8,000 VD per sandwich -- less than $.50.

Prenn Waterfall & Flower/Vegetable Growing Area

After lunch we headed south of the city and stopped at Prenn Waterfall and continued to the valley areas where many of the flowers and vegetables of the area are grown. There are many flowers grown in nurseries that are sold at the markets; some of them are even sold as transplanted varieties.

Dalat Market

When we arrived back in Dalat in the late afternoon, we went to the large market in the town centre and did some shopping. Most of the stalls inside are full of vendors who sell their products by weight -- they had everything from tea leaves, coffee beans and dried fruits and candies that you could purchase by the 100 gram increments. It was a binning sensation!! We came away with some local coffee beans, dried kiwis and dried strawberries that made for a great treat in the evening! The weather has been wonderful here! In the mornings and evenings it gets almost chilly because we are up in the mountains. However, I can see how Dalat is a top travel destination for local Vietnamese. The region also produces its own variety of wine.

Dalat Cable Cars

On our last morning in Dalat we rented some bicycles, and since we were going to use them for only 1/2 a day the lady gave us a deal of 20,000 VD per bike -- so $1 USD per bike! We set out on a bike ride around the city. We first headed to the Cable Cars, but in order to get there we had to bike up some pretty steep hills. This made us feel majorly out of shape, especially after not really having an exercise routine for the past 2 1/2 months. However, it helped that the weather was much cooler in Dalat and that it was early in the morning. If we were in more humid conditions we might have passed out. ;-) The views from the cable car were great and it only cost $3 USD for a return ride for each of us. While we were over on the other side we had a drink to refresh ourselves after the hill climb on the bikes. The skies were clear as well so we could see pretty far.

Dalat Railroad Station

The way down from the cable car was much easier and we zoomed down the hills quickly back into the middle of Dalat City. We then went to the Dalat Railroad Station, which is the oldest station in Vietnam. There we looked at and climbed aboard on one of the old steam locomotives that they had on display. Unfortunately, we had missed one of the train departures that went through the surrounding areas to a nearby temple, but maybe for next time.

We rode around the outskirts for a while longer and then stopped for our last Dalat coffee while we were in the region. It was one of the local cafes -- one of hundreds that seemed to be in Dalat and the surrounding areas -- and our two iced coffees only cost 14,000 VD (about 60 cents). We needed to be back at the bus station for our bus to Ho Chi Minh at 12:30 so we headed back to return the bikes. On the way to the bus station we were loyal to our sandwich lady we had found the previous day and got a couple of sandwiches to go -- they were about as good as Subway!

Bus to Ho Chi Minh

The rest of the day was pretty much spent on a bus. However, it was probably the smoothest and best bus travel we have done on the trip. Instead of taking the Open Bus Tours, that many of the tourists take, we paid only 110,000 VD each (a little less than $6) for the Mailinh Bus that seems to be a popular long distance express bus for the Vietnamese. It was a long trip - about 7+ hours - but amazingly, it went pretty quickly. The bus was nicely air-conditioned and the seats were comfortable; it even dropped us off within 5 minutes walking distance from the backpacker district where we needed to find a hostel! Within 15 minutes of getting off the bus we were already in our hostel room for night -- a trip record! However, true to form there were a couple of locals that got motion sick during the course of the bus trip. Also for some reason we've have witnessed this more on our second tour of Vietnam than the first tour. On almost every long trip transportation we've taken someone has gotten sick. On the day we arrived in Dalat, there were two of the 10 people of business class that got sick; then on the bus ride into Dalat we had to drop off a family on the side of the road because one of them was not feeling well.

We finished up the day by going to the Internet Café and then getting some food at Lotteria -- like an Asian version of KFC. They do have KFC here, but amazingly no McDonalds...yet. Vietnam and Laos are the only countries we visited that do not have McDonalds yet. We didn't even see a KFC in Laos.

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