After having experienced the exciting, but cold north, I am looking forward to some warmer adventures in the south. The forecast say 25-31C, but showers. I will not go all the way down south, but some national parks and other nature adventures are found here.
26/1. After a short and eventless flight from Ha Noi, I arrivals in Buon Ma Thout's airport after four in the afternoon. Not much time for organising anything, so I just go straight to the hotel, right in centre of the city. The sun is shining, and it is 26C - just what I was looking for. A gecko at the room proves I'm the right place.
On the way out, I hand in my laundry, thinking it actually might get dry here. Use to do it by hand, but the jeans I have been warring all time in the north, are so soaked in clay! The market is nearby, and I start looking for a moped, as I go there. The market is a hole in the ground - literally! There are a few vendors in the street in front of it, but the meat market is in a closed building. It is still Tet holydays.
I take a walk around a few blocks. This is a way more modern city, compared with those I have seen so fare. The narrow shops are still here, just rebuild. Some fancy larger buildings are found just round the corner, in the centre of the town. The streets all the way from the airport are boulevards with real well-kept grass and bushes, and some fine flower decorations due to Tet.
Although I seems to be the only white in the city, quite a few speaks a rather good English. There have been some sort of festival in the central square, but now, only the gamblers and the trash are left. Three dices with symbols, a cloth with the same, and money shift hands.
Next to the hotel, two rather fancy, but local restaurants are found. I try one of them, and I get served do-it-your-self roles. Half a dried rice pancake - just like plastic - crispy rice sticks, pork sticks, and thin slices of garlic, carrot, star fruit, cucumber, green banana along with salad leaves, been sprouts and some other leaves. Put on the pancake, role it tight, dip it in a sour/sweet souse and bite of. Taste great!
It have turned dark, and I "go home". Haven't found a motorcycle, but the receptionist tells me, the one on duty in the morning will help me out. A bit later, when I'm on my way to find some candy, she is back, and I'm directed to the neighbour hotel. Nice, little moped for $10 a day, but that might be the price in this modern city. Anyway; I'm not going to waist any time saving a few bucks.
27/1. Try to get an early start, but I'm locked in. When I get the gate opened, I don't seem to find any breakfast, only several coffee stalls. Pick-up the little motorbike, and head out of town. A bit out of centre, I find my morning noodles. These comes with spiced meatballs and beans.
I am quite fast out of the city, driving in rice fields and tiny coffee plantations. A few corn and cotton fields and a lot which have been harvested. Some houses are modern, some wooden, build on stilts. The Yok Don National Park should be located 40 kilometres outside town, but it turns out to be a bit further. Here are several mopeds on the road, at one point, I follow an iceman. Three big lumps on the moped.
There are quite some buildings at the entrance at Yok Don National Park: Reception, meeting hall, hotels, cafes, administration. Common for them is: They are completely deserted! I spend quite some time trying to find someone who will have my money, and assign me the mandatory $30 guide. No such luck, and I have not flown 1000 kilometres to see the gate of yet one more closed national park. If people are living in it, there must be a way!
Besides from its large buffer zone, inhabited by 38000 people, it covers an area of 115.545 hectares. It is mainly dry deciduous forest, and this is the dry season. Only a few, manmade waterholes but a lot of real dry and hard clay. 67 mammals species, 250 birds and some reptiles, which never have been studied.
I cross a large river, and head into the park by a rather well maintained dirt road. Many of the trees have sheeted their leaves, other do as I passes them. I stop time and time again, to explore a new species of plant of a nice view. Besides from the trees, here are a lot of bamboo. Some are clusters and op to ten metres high, others are more like grass, and not more than a meter or a meter and a half.
Some ant nests, filled with holes sits up high in thin branches. Other ants live in a special Asclepiadaceae. I suspected it, and when I broke one of the hollow leaves, I got it confirmed. Some trees have their entire top covered in this strange looking plants. If all have that many ants, here are a lot of ants!
I have been scalping for orchids, and after a couple of kilometres, it pays off: Not only do I find two plants in a tree; they have several fruits. Only problem is: They are ten metres up in a tree with a straight pole stem. I have no tools at all, and I spend almost an hour MacGyvering a bamboo pole with a hook, long and strong enough to grab a single fruit. Cut myself on a bamboo, and it keep bleeding the whole day!
Near bye, I find a branch, fallen from the top of a tree. Besides from a million ants, it have three different orchids. I think I find around ten different species, coming from the subfamilies of Aphyllorchis, Epidendroid, Dendrobioid and Vandoideae. I still haven't figured which subfamily the large ones, I get the huge fruits from, are.
It seems like every single orchid, besides from those on that twig, sits up in the trees, between eight and ten metres. That makes it a bit hard to make proper photos! Several times, I do the climb, but these trees are not made for climbing! Neither am I. One of the most common trees are a fig with extremely huge leaves.
A few dried ferns are also found in the heights, but they too have shredded their leaves. The rest of the epiphytes are at least five species of Asclepiadaceaes, some louring me to stop several times, imposing orchids. I hate to admit it, but I might be here on the wrong time of year - again. Only the largest orchid fruits are still on the plants, the rest have gone with the wind.
I meet a few mopeds from time to time. One is stopped at the river, electric fishing. There are no bridge, just a wide dam with shallow water on. Along the road, some Ipomoea are found, but are this not South African plants? In a group of bamboo, a real huge bees nest sits.
Some parts of the road reminds me so much of a African savannah. Different is: I don't have to be aware of elephants, leopards and lions here. Here, it is elephants, leopards and tigers! Well, there is a hazard with everything.
The road splits up after ten kilometres of rather unchanged open forest. I go left at first. The road turns into hour-glass fine sand, making driving rather hard and difficult. When the environment haven't changed after seven kilometres, I turn back. The road to the other side is just bad maintained clay, which have turned real hard in the dry.
Find a group of water buffalos, see some huge and beautiful butterflies, some kingfishers, some (Alexander?) parakeets, a huge eagle, a chipmunk, but not many animals at all. Orchids, on the other hand, seems to be quite common here. If I haven't experienced it, I would not have thought the lived in such a dry environment at all! The soil is bone dry, some places with several centimetres wide cracks in, and there are not many leaves left on the trees.
A few real huge trees marks my point of return. I am so glad I didn't go by bus! I end up driving 42 kilometres within the park, and it have been so alike, all the way. I doubt I would have made it to the first orchid by foot! On the way out, I find some green fruits, which reminds me of Dioscoreaceae, which might be found here.
I have been in the park four hours, and feel I have seen, what it offers on a dry day like this. I can't complain about the weather: Clear blue sky from the morning, temperature gone from 25 to 30-32C I guess. I have not expected to see any of the elephants, tigers, leopards, wild dogs, monkeys or other big mammals, but I'm over thrilled with the semi-dry orchids.
Figures I can make it to the two waterfalls; Dray Sap and Dray Nur. They are around 30 kilometres on the other side of Buon Ma Thout, but the roads are good. Stops outside the park for a cup of coffee. It is made with home-grown beans, strong as tare and served on ice. On the way back to town, I stop to photo some nice, green rice fields. Some of the first real green I have seen, and some even with seeds on.
Have a bit of a hurtle, finding out of Buon Ma Thout, on the right road - until I figure the map I'm using (on the backside of the business card from the hotel) is up-side-down. Ask for directions after 20 kilometres, and are send back. That surprises me, and I ask again, and it turned out; I was on the right way.
Where I this morning left town almost instantly, I don't seem to get out, this time. The Dray Sap should be along the road, but when I ask a third time, I find them at a side-road, of which they are seven, and 13 kilometres out of. The area is crowded! Must be the Tet days which are celebrated here.
A fee for the park, a fee for parking, and one more to cross the flimsy bridge! Last one is something about crossing into another county, and a free coffee is included. I thought I never write it but here it is :Here are defiantly way to few tourists!
More than half the people I meet, and that is hundreds and hundreds, greets me with a "halo". Around half the people having a camera, and that is a lot, take photos of me. Some even ask me to pose along with their families or friends! As I said: Too little tourists!
The falls are, even covered in bathing Vietnamese, astonishing. A massive wall, several streams and the surrounding nature is breathtaking. A couple of warn-out suspension bridges reminds me of Indiana Jones, but they last one more day. The figs are covering the rocks with their roots, the surface of pools are covered in different floating plants, at least four different.
I think I take as many pictures of the falls, as the locals take photos of me - or at least one tenth... The minor falls on the sides are beautiful too. Several tracks leads into the lush, green nature, and a few falls are hidden in the dense surroundings.
I find a few orchids and some real huge Euphorbias - which I recon are Africans - or not? The attention starts to get on my nerves, and I figure I better try to find the other fall; Dray Nur. It is seven kilometres further out on this road, all fine sealed.
Another parking fee - given a used ticket, and down towards the sound. Can't figure how people have gone down to them, and they are not that impressive. I do a few loops in the surroundings nature, revealing a few more orchids, and a few great views. A silicate blue lake looks strange in the green, and some huge leaves look so out of this world.
It is almost five, and I better head home. Find the big city easily, returns the moped and returns to the hotel for a needed bath. Still no hot water, but I'll cope - this time. Determined to get something else than noodle soup or the do-it-your-self roles, I start the persuade for super.
On one corner, baguettes are filled with mainly three different kinds of meat and a bit of green. Tastes great, cost 15KD, but leave a big hole in my stomach. Several blocks later, I settles for a noodle soup with chicken. On the way back, I somehow find myself at the baguettes stand again...
Four hours to do the diary/photo work. Not that exciting, but if I don't do it now, I'll hate myself later. And there are not much else to do actually. Tagging the photos is rather time consuming - I sure hope I figure how to display it in the slide shows! 277 photos cut back to 103 - quite good for a 208 kilometre drive these days.
28/1. Check-out and try to pick-up my wheels. Unfortunately, the young boy at the desk both think I'm crazy, driving that long, and he is determined to keep my passport. Considering I have had to turn it in every time I slept somewhere (except the real expensive resort), I find this unacceptable. He end up calling the owner, who accepts $500 for deposit. I sure hope he understood I meant deposit, and that I haven't brought the old moped!
Breakfast along the road. I'm offered a shot of homebrewed vodka by one of the customers I share a table with, but I notice all of the seven people along the table have his slightly yellow "water bottle". I know I will have to try the all. It might taste good, it might be polite, I should try the local stuff - but seven large shots of vodka along with a thin noodle soup won't me my day - I know by now.
Drive out of town by the airport road, and then into the countryside. More and more coffee fields, the closer I get to Lien Nghia. Along with these flowering and well scenting fields of bushes, two ridges of real old granite ridges breaks the flatness. Behind them, an even bigger range - might actually be called a mountain, follows.
It have been rather cold, and now I drive in one fleece and rainsuit, wishing I had the other fleece too. The road turns real bad in sections, while others are nice and smooth. The many rice tractors are getting competition by tiny ordinarily tractors.
A lot of the original forest have been cut down, to give room for coffee and other mountain-side-crops. The parts that have avoided is so fare, is either dense tropical forest or more open, dominated by bamboo. A few huge rivers, some more huge hills or mountains and lots of coffee! At noon, I think I'll try it, and it is good. Thick as tare, sweet and mild, rich in aroma and not bitter at all!
Here are only a few flowering plants, and I am fare from sure the are indigenous. As I approaches Da Lat, it turns into a hill rich Holland! As fare as I can see, the fields are filled with flowers for cutting, all kind of vegetables and plastic tunnels. Huge plant-centres, numerous stalls along the road: It is all about growing plants here!
I have not seen a single hitchhiker in Vietnam - before now. As the helpful fellow I am, I pick the woman up, figuring she wants a lift to the nearest village. It is, after all, a remote area. Then it turns up, she is making a living on this stretch of road, and although I am helpful, I not THAT helpful. Further more, her hands are suspicious large...
I haven't planned any hotel, but pulls over and have a look in Lonely Planet. The town is huge! Around 200.000 citizens. It is more or less one huge team park! Pedal driven swans in the city's lakes, an "Eiffel"-radio tower, horse drawn carriages, huge flower decorations. It is like Disney meets Asia.
I find a hotel in the right area, and go for a $10 room. Sorry, all booked - in Vietnamese. Same goes for the next six places in the street. Number seven have a room, for 1.500KD. And it is NOT a fancy hotel at all! I think I get to number thirteen or so, before I find the next vacant room. 800KD, but who can be fuzzy at this point?
It turns out: This is the place you want to be during the Tet, if you are Asian. I do see a couple of whites, but the entire city is packed with Asian tourists. It reminds me of the Roskilde Festival! All the stalls selling food and crap you don't need, people dressed up and in party mode.
I got two or three things to see, each of them in opposite corners of the city. Might as well get cracking. With those hotel prices, this is a one night town! I decides to go to Dalat Flower Gardens. Although it is no botanical garden, it might be worth a visit.
I find it without a map, which feels a bit strange, considering the city layout - there are none... Here are packed with people, but it is build for it. It turns out to be the heart of this DisniAsia, with all bored people can enjoy. As a special treat, all the orchid gardeners of Vietnam have a special display, and what I have missed in flowering orchids are compensated here. Talk about an OD on orchids!
None speaks any English, and here are no growers nor gardeners. I try to photo as many as I can, knowing some are African, others hybrids. I am just not sure on exactly which. Here are all five subfamilies plus a few more. Next to this display, and bonsai exposition are found. Most are not old in culture. They just find a bend tree in the wild, dig it up, cut it back and wait a couple of years. But they are good at it! The big branches are not just cut of: They are cut into what looks like rotting wood with holes and all.
Like the orchids, all can be bought. The orchids are sold as they are, or in small plastic bags with a few pseudo-bulbs. I am somehow glad, I'm not aloud to bring back any. Along with the bonsais and orchids, a vide variety of colourful and special plants are offered. Even a few cacti and succulents, but mainly plants with huge and/or many flowers in bright colours. I see Cyclamens several places. The whole bulb are in a bowl of water, and I've been told; I water them too much!
Next to the bonsais are a rose garden, and it looks great. Not that there are many sorts, but those who are here, looks fine. I passes through yet another bonsai show, this time outside. Some are really awesome! Here should be a wildflower garden, but what I find is fare from impressive! Just the orchids catches my attention.
Some of the orchids can be seen on this slideshow.
My next site is right across town, and I only look at the map once! It is a cable car going seven kilometres out to a artificial lake. I'm not interested in the lake, but the ride should be worth it. It goes right over the large pine forests which are found around town on the steeper hill sides. I even spots some orchids, sitting on the top of a pine, on the edge.
Great views down several valleys, over the city and some nurseries. The lake is a real, but not unexpected, disappointment. Here is a temple too, and the third monk I see in Vietnam, gongs a gong every time someone throws in a dong note - and people are lined up. Mammon is praised here...
Outside are some bonsais, and especially one is absolutely astonishing. The cable car stops at five, and I better get going. The third site for the day was a "maybe", and at this time of day, I don't bother finding "the crazy house", architectural wonder or not. Find the hotel without looking in a map. This have been a strange day for sure! Write a bit of diary, before initiating the hunt for supper.
Just round the corner is the posh hotels and restaurants, but their prices are bases on Chinese factory owners, I think. End up right next to my hotel, with glass noodle soup with a sprinkle of chicken. That leaves me peckish enough to enjoy a baguettes with fill and a bit later; a coconut cake.
While looking for food, I found the enormous night marked. I guess it is due to Tet and the city's reputation in general, but here are thousands of people. I need something to look for, and decides to find a souvenir. Guess it should have been a moped, but I go for a water buffalo. I find one standing, but would have preferred it laying down. Well, for 10KD, it will do for now.
Then I try to find a crash helmet which I might get away with at home. I find just the right one - except is is surprisingly way too big. I even find just the same in another shop. It is not like they don't have any. You can get them in any colour and any shape you want. Some would do it a t a derby, and just not on the jockeys!
After some hours of walking in the crowd, I walk home to relax. Well, with a bit over 400 photos, that is. The moped is not that comfortable, and the 231 kilometres combined with the 208 yesterday can be felt. To morrow should only be around 80 and a bit - unless I continues to Bao Loc; another 100 kilometres. If the moped up to it. It felt like it was loosing its breath today.
I end up working after midnight, but I guess, I will have quite good time the next two days: I have an appointment on the 31. in Bao Loc, and only one day's program.
29/1. Celebrates the day, hoping for good luck, by breaking out a fresh T-shirt. That lasts for 10 minutes before I spill some greasy stuff from my morning noodles on it. At the hotel, they only have one foreign passport. It is green, female and Asian - I'm not. Finally it turns out, mine was stocked in a closed book.
Then my old asthmatic lady of a moped is gone. I parked it right outside, and now, some cars are parked there. Figuring one of the hotels have brought it inside, thinking it belonged to one of their guests, but no such luck. Finally, I find it in the back of a doubtful restaurant. They are not likely to let me drive it away, and I figure I better bring in the "mussels" - the owner of my hotel. That works, and I'm off.
It is a rather cold morning, with a bit of a drizzle. I have dressed for that, except the boots. I hope it will clear, when I descent from this high city. I drive out on the other side of the city, where the pines rules. Great views with the clouds trapped in the valleys, covered in large pines.
The road to Di Linh is only 80 kilometres, pretty well maintained, but heavily trafficked. I have to concentrate quite some, negotiating mopeds, cars and busses. Make a few stops on the way, to enjoy and capture the surrounding landscape, but keep a good speed. Most of the tour is through villages and farmland, with little wild nature.
As I have hoped, the asthmatic problems was a highland problem, and the old lady spins nicely. As I approached Di Linh, also known as Djiring, tea plantations start dominating. I only planned to see a waterfall here, but stops at the centre of the town. The market is almost up an running after Tet, and I do a round. It look disappointing like all the others.
The Bo Bla waterfall should be 16 kilometres towards Bao Loc, and my contact in this region have suggested I found a hotel in Bao Loc, not Di Linh. The waterfall being almost in the middle of these two cities, and a good walk away from the road, combined with the temperature passing 30C, makes me drive pass it at first.
In Bao Loc, I find the cluster of hotels quite easy, considering I have no map at all. The first one is full, and I fear the worse. The next look rather expensive, but they have a double for 180KD. It even have a lift! It is, I think, one of the nicest I been in so fare, and less than a fifth of yesterdays DisneyAsia hoax. It is even on the backside of the hotel, with a balcony facing the farmland.
I drop the bag and the raingear, and head back towards Di Linh. A lot of asking around reveals that Bo Bla Fall actually is only eight and not 16 kilometres outside Di Linh. Can't figure why they don't set up signs? Then again; I'm the only white around here, and the farmer boys and girls, who enjoys the fall, have come here since they were babies. Once again: Too little white tourists! Some can say: Halo, where are you from, what is your name, but that is it. That don't stop them from repeating it.
The path down to the foot of the fall have been hard labour - many years ago. The fall is 30 metres high, around 6-7 metres wide, and there are plenty of water in it. Some concrete elephants are spraying water, while concrete pavilions and bridges fulfil the scenery. I follows some more unofficial tracks, pressuring orchids, which could benefit from the constant fine spray of the fall.
As I penetrate the ferns and bushes, looking up, I finally discover the orchids. It is a terrestrial member of the Spiranthoideae subfamily. Tiny white flowers, and even fruits on some! A few other plants draw my attention: A Selaginella, a parasitic Ipomoea, and some that I can't put a family on, right now. Along the river, some giant figs dominates, their branches decorated in ferns.
Here are some golden-lined skinks, tiny lizards, several butterflies, parasitic wasps, and to my big joy: Stalk-eyed flies. They tend to sit and compare distance between their eyes, in the shadows, and I make a lot of attempts to capture just one. On the same leaves, some Daddy really-long legged spiders hunts.
In the river, a group of tadpoles are clustered. In the big trees numerous birds are sinning. Strider flies skates the surface of the river, swallows crosses the open space between the figs and bamboo. Truly a nice place on such a warm day. I try to keep in the shadows: My scalp got a bit sunburned the other day. Worse burned is my left ankle and ear. Trousers too short, ears out of the helmet.
I have seen, what I can find, and I am getting tired of the attention. Time to move on. I stopped at a little cafe last time I drove this way, and their coffee was so great. I repeat the success, leaning back in the almost beach-chair-like chairs, and think of little, for the first time since I arrived in Vietnam. That Zen moment last for about ten minutes, but it was good!
I drive back to Bao Loc, and do a bit of sightseen. The city is scatter over a large area, shops found along the major roads. I got a moped, why not use it? Stop and walk wherever something look interesting. Find the crash helmet I was looking for, just a bit too big. Have found it before, but I been told time and time again: One size fits all! Well, with the filling from the first I bought, it might. The price is ridiculous: 70DK. I will have no problem tossing it, if I should find it in the right size in i.e. Ho Chi Minh City.
I drop the moped at the hotel, and do a round at the large marked. It is about 50% up and running, but as suspected: Nothing new. Supper is a repeat too: Do-it-your-self roles, but they are pretty good, and they do not involve noodles.
Back to work as it get dark. Does not feel that way, but I done 185 kilometres today. 142 pictures can easily be cut back to 40, before it hurts. Somehow, I am finish at eight! Then again: there is always some loos ends, I can tie up, like gathering the wild orchid photos. That keep me busy till bedtime!
30/1. A day which is not that busy at all. The only sight I have lined up it Dambri Falls, only 18 kilometres outside Bao Loc. It is not only the 90 metre fall that draws me, the surrounding nature and the possibility to encore wild orchids is a major issue.
Find some breakfast that don't include soup. Besides from that, it is pretty much the same as usual. I still haven't figured why it is that hard to get some plane rice? The sun is shinning from a clear blue sky, but I need my fleece while driving.
The receptionist tells me: Just go right on the first corner, and there will be signs. Sounds a bid odd, but I give it a try. And behold; there are signs! Well, not every time the road splits, and sometimes it is a Y with the name under in the middle - what does that help?
The road is in great condition, and I have time to enjoy the surroundings. Mainly tea, coffee and mulberry, used to feed the silk-worms. Scatted in the hill-rich landscape remains still a few of the original huge trees. A few villages, some tiny Jersey-like dairy-cows, several small pigs and some hens.
I have to ask for directions once, but then I find it. At first, I think I have ended up at a very wrong place, but it is here. It is a DisneyAsia once again! Swans, joyrides, cafes, giant restaurants, souvenir shops, toilets and above all: Some real loud music. I'm one of the first, and to judge by the number of employees, here will be thousands within hours. Entrance fee, parking fee but then I'm inside.
I rush to the main Dambri Falls, hoping to get a photo without too many colourful Asians. Yet one more fee for the lift, bringing me down - to the foot of the fall, not mentally. The sun is just above the top of the falls, and I figure this will make a great afternoon shot. Well, I have set off the day for this, and I might just start relaxing with a drip coffee.
I spot a little track, leading out to the surrounding rain forest. It looks to me as pristine nature, and I make a "wrong turn" the right place, and enter a world of completely unspoiled nature. The main target is orchids, but here are quite some other interesting plants, insects, reptiles and mammals.
The canopy is relatively open in some places, and that creates a massive mat of plants on the floor of the forest. The first wild orchid I find, is a member of the Epidendroideae subfamily. It sits on a huge branch, which have fallen down, a long time ago.
Many large ferns embraces the stems, some belonging to enormous trees, mainly figs. I find a snail encasing, big as the rest! It is, I must admit; one of the few animals that I capture with the camera. I might be able to get photos of grasshoppers, butterflies, morphs, ticks and beetles, but I concentrate on orchids.
The next I find is also fallen down from the high canopy. It is a young Vandoideae, which seems to do fine down here. The next might not be a orchid after all, but it could be a Epidendroideae. I start looking at the ground for terrestrial orchids, and within minutes, I find a huge Apostasioideae. It even have a fruit although it is emptied by the wind. I pinch it anyway...
Another plant looks very much like this orchid, but the flowers are more like Asclepiadaceae and the fruits are blue!. Can't figure what it is. I guess the next is a member of the Apostasioideae subfamily, although I can't find a flower, only buds.
One of the few flowers are absolutely astonishing. I probably ought to recognise the family, but not right now. The next - probably - orchid is tiny. It have fallen along with a large branch.
I have - more or less - been following a deserted and almost invisible trail, which then turns into a recently used track. I reach a tall but narrow waterfall, which don't seem to get much attention. It is, never the less, quite beautiful, and the natural clearing below it, reveals some interesting plants.
One of them is an Impatience, with a rather special flower. Another blue and yellow flower are totally unknown to me. I climb up and behind the fall, and here are several interesting spore plants: Ferns and Selaginella. I climb down along the stream, but it get way too difficult.
A few metres from the top of the waterfall, I find a dirt road. On the other side of that road stands the last remaining trees in a farmers field. Some of them are covered in orchids! Unfortunately 15-20 metres up, but with zoom, I can get a glimpse, and do some guessing to their origin.
I turn back, into the dense forest. New orchids, and as a really surprise: One of the giant squirrels. I see it clearly, but before I get the camera up, turned on and zoomed in, it is way higher up. Plants are so much easier... I find some from a unknown family, which have some real wired leaves. Newer seen anything like that before.
Some plants are like barbwire or just spiny and mean in general, and the heat is hard. I should have brought water, not a fleece jacket! The temperature extend 30C, and due to the harsh environment: Steep hills, slippery clay, dense vegetation and nearly impossible tree climbs, I must admit: I am slightly sweaty!
The trail kind of vanishes, and I find myself on a almost vertical hill, covered in hostile plants and dense bamboo entanglement. I don't feel like turning back - can't find the trail anyway, but going up is almost impossible due to the steep, slippery clay, down is 30 metre vertical fall, and forward is bamboo forest. A few tree ferns still hold on, but it will be farmer or bamboo that wins.
I do a few tests, and end up penetrating the bamboo. I get to a new clearing, and are able to see the huge valley, in which the river from the falls runs. It is impossible to cross within a day! I must find back to the dirt road. Follow the clearing to a farmer's sheet. His road leads eventually up to a dirt road, which might be the right one.
The music, which have been a kind of beacon for me, gains volume. It turns out you actually can hear it for five kilometres down the valley! I find a back entrance, and head for some water and an ice cone. Figured I deserved it after three and a half hour hard exploration.
I do the main waterfall once again, this time by stairs on the other side - admission free. A single, tiny Huperzia catches my eye. I have seen one before, but thought it was a cultured plant. The fall is still in the shadows, and I explore the surroundings - and a cup of coffee. High up, I think I see a Anolis male showing off.
The large gold-lined skinks are everywhere, and I think the tiny one, with a black and white stripe on the side is this years hatchlings - unless they give birth? A bit down stream is another, smaller fall from the river I passed earlier. A couple of bright orange Longhorn beetles sits on some old wood, butterflies crosses the openings, and if it wasn't for the music, birds probably would be sings.
A group of short tailed monkeys sits in a opening, totally ignoring me. As I get back to check the lightning, some unscheduled rain starts! Clouds are gathering, and I wait it out, next to a food stand. After half an hour, it lightens and I decides to call it a day. The sky is covered with rather dark clouds, and I will try to find back to Bao Lac, as dry as possible.
An issue, that really annoys me, is their trash handling. There are waste baskets everywhere, but is seems like the empty them randomly down streams. Not what I had expected when I read: “Dambri eco-tourism will bring a great deal of interesting memories for your way the Lam Dong Highlands”. I send them a harsh e-mail!
I reached the city with only a few drops on me, and do a few loops, trying to find something interesting. A large temple, with a multi store pagoda draws me in. Here are, as usual, many bonsais, and even a Stephania venosa. I have seen a few Beaucarnea recurvata and Jatropha podagrica. A statue of a mighty fat Buddha and a skinnier, multi armed one too. Can't help thinking Buddha would be offended being portraited that fat: After all, he did try to live by one grain of rice a day.
It start to darkens, although it is only four, and I head home. It is still dry when I reach the hotel, but when I pull out a chair to my balcony, the rain starts. I just decided this morning: Leave the robber boots, it will be sunshine from now on. That was what the forecast claimed...
Supper is a sample from around the stands on the streets. Pretty much the same, hard to tell apart. I have experienced in so many other places: Why on earth do everybody sell the same!!! In Africa, several villages will sell Chinese produced footballs, then tin cars for the next 50 kilometres and so on. The same here: Melons for 200 kilometres, then oranges for 300 and straw hats for the next 150 kilometres along the roads.
The diary and then the slaughtering of photos: 332 is cut down to 88. I got way too many from the south - or I just experience and see a lot...
31/1. Howie Wong, the manager of Kim Ngan Orchids JSC, which is one of the large orchid nurseries in Vietnam, meets me in the lobby. He invites me on breakfast, and then we drive out to their Di Linh nursery. Their main product is Phalaenopsis, of which they have a vide variety of.
The nursery seem real efferent, and the climate is controlled in each, large section. Besides from the numerous Phalaenopsis, some beautiful or real odd looking members of other groups of orchids are fund in one section. Howie tells me a lot about their treatment such as soil, watering, temperature, light. I learn a lot, and understand the knowledge that goes into a streamlined production like this.
We drive back to Bao Loc, and out to the west. On the way, we passes some forest covered mountains, and when we decent, the temperature raises to real tropical. On the way, Howie insists on buying lunch too! As usual, I talk a bit - well, a lot, and it is getting late, before we find the side road to Cat Tien National Park. That road is under construction, and it is a difficult drive for Howie, while I just sit in the back, enjoying the nature, taking pictures when I feel like it.
The park is reach by boat, and we start walking into the 72.000 hectare area. Howie have not been searching for wild orchids before, and I give him a few hints on how I find them. Shortly after, we find the first ones, and I think we see 5-7 different species on our tour.
Here are a lot of bird song, and the strange call from the hornbilled. A few monkeys grunts, but keeps out of cameras sight, just like a squirrel and a chipmunk. Plants are so much easier - unless it is the orchids, which tend to sit 10-15 metres up.
We follow a path to a giant tree, which I unfortunately have forgotten the name on. Some bamboo are protecting themselves with natural barbwire, and I'm sure the elephants leave the alone. Some giant termite nests, kingfishers, parakeets, strange plants, nice insects, more monkeys, many different ferns - all along a nice concrete trail.
It is getting darker, and as we sails back, it turns real dark. We get a couple of refreshing coconuts, and set of on the real challenging tour back to Bao Loc, in the dark. Well, for Howie, I just sit in the back, reflecting on what I have leaned today.
When we were down in the park, the temperature remained high, even after dark. When we assent towards Bao Loc, it drops from around 28C to 19C or so. We share a meal while Howie wait for his night bus home, and I'm back at the hotel at 11, and start working. At one, I decides: The photos can exceptionally wait until tomorrow. Guess I will be driving most of the day, which keeps the number of new photos low.
1/2. I am halfway between Buon Ma Thou and Ho Chi Minh City, but I have to return the motorcycle op north in Buon Ma Thou, and after having done those 300 kilometres, I treat myself with a flight down south. Would have been so much smarter, flying in to Bao Loc in the first place, then just a bus to HCMC, but due to Tet and bad planning; that is not the case. I just spend one more day and $110 up in the "northern south".
Despite I got late to bed, I wake up early and kind of fresh. The breakfast is a treat: Sticky rice with grilled pork chops. Originally, I had planed to take the western route, but I've been told it has more or less gone, and I do have most tomorrow as well. I drive back the way I came, and head down the Ho Chi Minh Trail tomorrow.
I drive slowly - compared to my normal speed, and make quite some stops on the way, checking out potential orchid locations, and capturing some nice landscapes. I end up with 71 photos, but get some great shots of pigs, green rice patches, mountains, drying coffee beans, corn, yams and grass, orchids and much more.
I pull over for coffee a couple of times. Howie told me what the secret to this great "drip coffee" is: They use a lot of some special corn, roasted like the coffee. That might be the reason for in not only tastes great, but I also get away drinking it! It is either serves just with condensed milk; a fat cream with sugar in, or over ice cubes.
The weather is perfect for touring like this: I do fine with an open fleece jacked - except for my hands being suspicious dark red! The roads are perfect most of the way, only 10-20 kilometres have more holes than surface. Once again, I passes the large dam, forming Lake Lak, the high mountain ridge, the "hitchhiker" and the two low granite ranges. It is a real clear day, and here are many great motives.
I kind of cut a corner of Dalat, driving through dairy cattle and cutting flowers. Never the less, I do prefer the passes, offering chance of new encounters with orchids. Op around Phi Lieng, I find several species, but as usual; way up in the trees. When I cross a big plane, the winds picks up, and the temperature drops a bit.
A slight de-tour around Lake Lak, a shortcut another place, and I end up in Buon Ma Thou at four, just as I anticipated. Have absolutely no recollection to the layout of the city, nor where I got the motorcycle from. I know I got a business card, but I simply can't find it among the 15-20 others I have gathered. That is because I did anticipated that, and stuck it somewhere else...
My bud like to get of the saddle, and I pay one of the many motorcycle taxies 20KD, to lead me to the hotel. Way faster than to look it op in my map! Do a bit of writing, until I figure there is a chance for some supper. Then I can't postpone it anymore: I have two days of photos to proceed. Yesterday's 164 is cut down to 55, and the 71 of today decimated to 27. And I still got to many...
2/2. Got quite some driving to do; 160 kilometres, and an early start should do it. I find some noodle-soup in the edge of town, but then, the old lady won't start. Right across the road, a mechanic is working. He have a look, and guess it is the lack of spark, that is the problem. It have been acting up a bit before, and I figure I better get him to call the owner. I wait, drinking coffee.
The owner turns up with another bike quite fast, and I head out towards The Ho Chi Minh Road and then Trail. The Tet is defiantly over; the road are packed with big trucks and a lot other traffic. It slows down the speed, although the road is in a rather good condition, most of the stretch.
I passes through rubber plantations, some rice, a bit of corn and some cows. It is a rather dark day, black clouds are dominating the sky, but at least my hands won't get burned any more. They are dark red and a bit balloon-like! Unfortunately, the lack of sun means it is only around 17C, and despite my single fleece and raincoat, I am cold to the bones. The chill-factor is rather high at 80 Km/t!
A few hints on the direction, and I reach the right "trail" around ten. It is, to say it least; real disappointing. I have expected a dense rainforest with a footpath. In fact, it is just another sealed minor road. The surroundings are pretty much almost farmland. Mainly coffee, but still some rubber too.
After having checked with my map, I must admit: A failure. It is the right "trail", but is was defiantly not worth the the tour! Might as well head back, doing it a bit slower. Make a stop at the larger Ho Chi Minh Road to gain some warmth and coffee. Unfortunately, she only serve food and tea, and I grab a cup, while I look around in her home/restaurant. On the other side of the road, some of the only soldiers I have seen, struggles to get a over-loaded trolley pulled up-hill by a rice-tractor. Could be used in a funny film!
Near Buon Ma Thout, the sun threatens to break out, and I do a stop in a large village. A cup of the drip-drip, and a round in the marked. To my truly big surprise, I find some thin glows right away. I figured I will have to protect my hands from the sun down south as well, and the two set of glows I have, are way too thick for that kind heat. I get the thin ones for 5KD, without haggling.
Stop to do a couple of photos on a bridge, but returns way faster than expected: The traffic was less intense towards the big city. I returns the motorcycle, and the receptionist calls the owner. He expect me to pay half the cost of the reparation on the other bike. Can't say I find that all right, but I won't make a scene for 700KD either. This failed adventure today have set me a bit over 1.000.000 Dongs!
Do a tour through the city - again. The market is now open, along with the major part of the shops. Only a platter with frogs and a bowl with silk-worm-cocoons catch my attention. Yet one more coffee, and as so many other times, it is served with a pot of hot, green tea. When no ones looks, I poor some in the coffee... Somehow, I have missed to mention: I did see an elephant one day. I was sitting, enjoying a drip-drip, and it passes a yard of factory. At that point, I thought I would see more, and couldn't be bothered.
Back at the hotel, I struggle to get everything, including helmet, into my bag. Write some diary, waiting for the time to head out to the airport. It is a brand new, rather big airport, but only rarely used, it seems. I have an hour to kill, then it is down to: