|Pick of the bunch: Visiting strawberry farms, tourists can indulge their taste-buds. — Photo dalatngaynay.com
by Minh Thu
Da Lat City's wonderful landscape and pure air at 1,500m above sea level attracts tourists to the Lam Vien plateau in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong.
"You can't travel to Da Lat and not discover the local culture," said Tran Anh Tu, owner of my little hotel, in an effort to convince my husband and I to stay longer.
So we followed his suggestion and booked a tour to the rural area to soak up the life of local farmers and discover the specialities.
The hotel's motorcycle drivers took us 30km to Lam Ha District, enjoying the scenery of mountains and endless green valleys on the way, and crossing the spectacular Ta Nung Pass, an adventure in itself.
The first destination was Van Thanh flower village which has been producing blooms since the late 1950s. Farmers first planted roses on a trial basis and found the climate and soil conditions were in their favour.
With cross breeding and advanced technology from the Netherlands, Taiwan and Japan, there are now 150ha of flowers, with two-thirds dedicated to roses. The growing skills have been enhanced and handed down through generations.
Guide Tu said: "Their products contribute to developing tourism. Visitors enjoy seeing the fields of flowers in bloom, taking photos and watching farmers pack flowers for export."
|Flower power: Van Thanh Village is a must-see destination where tourists get an insight into the lives of local farmers such as flower growers. — VNA/VNS Photo Phuong Vy
Pushing on, we reached hectares of strawberry to be picked and tasted.
Grower Nguyen Trong Chau said tourists were very interested in their tour of the fields to learn about the planting process and to pick their own.
"We sell them at VND20,000 (nearly US$1) per kilo compared to double that at markets in the city and up to VND80,000 in Ha Noi," he said.
Around noon, we approached a cricket farm in full chorus. After taking a look around to learn how crickets are raised, we settled down to a crunchy meal of fried cricket with lemongrass and chilli.
Farm owner Nguyen Quang Huy said it was mostly foreigners who were curious about this local speciality.
"At first, I raised crickets to sell to restaurants but when foreign tourists showed an interest, I co-operated with travel agents to organise tours and to cook the speciality," he said. "Eating insects is unfamiliar to foreigners so they have a special tale to tell when they go home."
On other one-day tours, tourists can visit a rice liquor distillery to learn the process and try the finished product. Or they might take in a mushroom farm or even see wine made from ripe mulberry.
A tourist from Russia, who gave her name as Annika, said she enjoyed Da Lat's countryside and the silk factory. "We saw silk worms, which just eat and sleep before building a cocoon of silk around themselves," she said.
"It was fun to see how the workers make the scarves you see in stores and the way they process the silk."
And for coffee addicts, a visit to a plantation will give an experience of weasel coffee. Wild weasels run around the plantations, eat the best and ripest coffee beans and then leave their droppings around with the coffee beans relatively undigested and intact.
Experts say the enzymes inside the weasel's stomach gives the beans a distinctive taste and aroma which connoisseurs are prepared to pay through the nose for.
At the end of the day we had learned so many things from the local people: their hospitality and their awareness of tourism. What's more we had bags of goodies to take home.
We left with a feeling we were right to spend more time in the countryside. — VNS