For anyone who is going to Da Lat, I highly recommend that you book a place on Mr Rot’s Secret Tour ($35) and STOP READING AT THIS POINT.
For everyone else…
Hang on, have they gone yet?
The best aspect of this trip is booking without any idea of what you are getting yourself into so, for anyone who is still reading who shouldn’t be, this post contains significant spoilers.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Mr Rot was born in a village outside Da Lat. He was one of fourteen children and the only one to attend school. He is keen for visitors to understand something of the culture of his people – the K’ho – and, as well as ensuring key sights are appreciated, he and his team take visitors to see K’ho villages.
The secrecy comes from the fact that the other tour operators don’t have his family and friendship connections that enable an incredible and genuine experience. There are no gimmicks – neither you nor the guides know what you will encounter on any given visit.
But, before the village…
A stop at the cricket farm, the insects not the sport.
And yes, they are for eating. I have seen insects for sale on just about every market I’ve been to in Southern China and Vietnam.
I hadn’t tried them because I didn’t want to buy a big tub and find I disliked then
Dipped in chilli sauce, I found them quite tasty, in small quantities. The crickets are fried and taste like rather greasy crisps (chips for the non-UK reader).
That isn’t the only culinary option for them (or the silkworms also on sale in the restaurant).
Our next stop showed us where the silkworms come from.
At a small but very busy factory, the silk cocoons are boiled and the silk sorted into high quality and low quality, with the high quality spun into thread.
Silk production is the second biggest component of the Central Highlands’ economy. Coffee is the largest.
This was a working factory. Nobody stopped what they were doing to entertain the tourists or to come and sell us any products.
The silkworms are still alive when the cocoons are gathered. I asked about the possibility of gathering them after the insect has hatched.
Vegan silk is being produced though is small quantities and at a much higher price.
It takes 7kg of silkworm cocoons to make 1kg of silk.
Our next stop was an opportunity to work off the protein we had consumed.
Elephant Falls… around 25km outside of Da Lat and while it’s one of four waterfalls around the city, it is considered to be the most impressive to visit.
Overlooking the fall is Lady Buddha – standing at 71m, she is the largest in Vietnam.
After lunch, where we were educated in the minefield that is the number of tones with which the word ‘bo’ can be pronounced, we headed to a K’ho village.
For those who are interested, how you say ‘bo’ can mean… chop, potty, dad, boyfriend, or to walk on your feet. So many ways in which a conversation could go horribly wrong.
Having visited the incredible Museum of Precious Heritage in Hoi An, I was looking forward to this visit.
There are no photographs of the village or the people as we were asked not to take pictures.
The village was very pretty, painted wooden houses with coffee crops spread out on tarpaulin to dry in the sun.
There were a lot of small children playing. Today is Vietnam’s Teachers’ Day – the children take flowers and gifts to school to honour their teachers and are then sent home for the afternoon.
Win-win all round, there.
The children called out “hello” and seemed delighted when we replied and waved to them.
After our guide asked a couple if women if we could see the inside of their houses, one lady agreed and showed us to her home.
Once she did this, another six or seven came to see what was happening and to join the conversation (translated by our guide).
They told us about their crops (rice and coffee), how they pay for electricity and water supplies to the village and while we definitely had some interest in selling John to one of them for her daughter to marry… his partner Lizzie could have gained an antique necklace of beautiful stones, a musical instrument and a very fine porcelain bowl, the deal was abandoned at the last minute.
What I found amazing was when they offered to show us how they spun their cotton into thread and how they weaved the finished (and multi coloured threads) into the most intricate designs.
We watched as the lady who had invited us into her house wove approximately 30cms of a skirt, using a loom that was tied around her body and held in position by her feet.
The colours and designs are stunning.
She told us that young people don’t want to learn how to do this because it is hard work and painful – back aching and tiring.
How long this tradition will continue is uncertain. They offered us the most beautiful sheets of their weaving for only 200,000VND (about £5-6).
It was tempting.
This could sell in the UK for £50-£100 but my small rucksack means I don’t really have room for souvenirs. It was enough to see the work being done.
We spent over an hour there in the women’s company. It was an incredible experience.