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When the first activity while touring the Vietnam Central Highlands was eating fried critters at a ‘cricket farm’, it clearly set the tone for the day. As promised, Mr. Rot’s Secret Dalat Tour was not going to be like any other tour in Vietnam.
Our day was filled with Vietnam life rather than sights. We met no other tourists along the way as Mr. Rot led us through small-town markets, working factories, the wide-open countryside and the humble Vietnam Highlands village where he grew up.
The Secret Dalat Tour
Known as the Secret Tour of Dalat, specific details of the trip are not shared in advance. We signed up for the Central Highlands Vietnam tour through our hotel – and they promised it would be more of an experience than a traditional tour. Only given a vague itinerary – Dalat waterfalls and a village – they promised a unique journey into real-life Vietnam that most tourists never see…and they were right.
Dalat 1-Day Tour
The Vietnam Central Highlands tour from Dalat is an all-day trip. Our day began bright and early with a small group of 7 participants. We were a bit apprehensive but opened our minds to whatever would be presented to us. Leaving the city of Dalat behind us, we traveled on dirt roads through the mountains, past scenic hillside farms and over shaky, plank covered bridges into a world we knew existed, but never thought we’d see.
Touring Vietnam Central Highlands
There are many tours in Dalat, but none quite like the one by Mr. Rot. The Dalat one-day tour was one of the highlights of our entire trip to Vietnam. Our Dalat tour itinerary included several sights and incredible experiences.
Shortly after leaving the city behind, we stopped at a somewhat derelict building in what felt like the middle of nowhere. We were briefed that we were touring a Cricket Farm – and we uneasily shuffled inside the Dalat farm.
Hundreds – thousands – of live crickets chirped from their bins. The simple farm was small and after our quick tour, we were offered a platter of fresh fried crickets…with a side of hot sauce. While not necessarily a delicacy, crickets are eaten in Vietnam as a source of protein. Not a typical breakfast I am accustomed to, I (along with only three other brave souls from our group) hesitantly sampled the insects.
Truth be told, the crickets didn’t taste all that bad – similar to airy veggie crisps….just with legs. Little did we know it was just the start of the day’s culinary excursion.
We have visited dozens of markets in Vietnam (in fact, visiting the Night Market is one of our top recommended things to do in Dalat!). But we were in for a treat (literally) when we visited a small-town market in the Central Highlands of Vietnam with Mr. Rot.
Before entering, Mr. Rot gave us some no-nonsense, practical advice about acceptable market protocol in Vietnam. (Like, to not stand in front of a stall unless you are making a purchase; if you’re not buying, you are blocking.) He also let us in on the harsh reality that makes some Westerners squeamish: they eat all animals (even those we keep as pets in America). Not only do they eat all parts of the animals, the butchered animals are prominently displayed throughout markets.
Touring the Market
Items for sale in foreign markets have never failed to intrigue us. We gawk over tables piled high with colorful fruits, vegetables and fragrant flowers and are often shocked by the popularity of animal parts that we have never ingested. Feet – particularly chicken and pig feet – seemed to be in high demand at the market we visited on our tour.
Mr. Rot provided translations and backstories to some of the vendors that gave us true insight into the life of a market vendor. We met a woman who was selling beef – and we learned that, every day, she gets up early, butchers one cow and brings the meat to the market to sell. Talk about farm to table freshness (we could only shake our heads at the fact that the parts were all just sitting out on a table in the heat)!
Sampling the Fare
Under the guidance of Mr. Rot, we were able to sample some of the ready-to-eat goods that we have before been too afraid to try. We ate fresh vegetable spring rolls and a moist rice cake topped with egg yolk that we dipped into a delicious sauce.
Sweet treats are also widely popular – and we tried heaps of them! We were familiar with some items, like sugary fried dough, but a cake wrapped in banana leaves and gooey bean custard were new to us. By the time we left the market we were stuffed – and on a sugar high – and it wasn’t even 10:00am.
Understanding the Merchandise
In the merchandise section of the market, Mr. Rot educated us on a few Vietnamese customs that before had baffled us. Many items in these stores appear to be children’s toys, but in fact are part of the rituals for honoring deceased relatives.
He showed us ‘gifts’ that would be purchased on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, which would they would then burn as an offering to their loved ones in heaven. And, the stacks of paper money we were so used to seeing are not for Monopoly, but are littered during funeral processions in order to ‘buy’ the path to heaven.
Dalat Silk Factory
Unlike the large silk factories that dedicate a portion of their business to tourists, the silk factory we visited was local and real. The women working barely glanced in our direction as we moved through the humid, two-room workshop. They methodically worked, simultaneously unwinding multiple silk cocoons onto small spools.
Elephant Waterfall (The Best Dalat Waterfall!)
The next stop on our Central Highland Vietnam tour was at one of the region’s natural wonders: Elephant Waterfall. A mandatory stop on any Dalat Waterfall Tour (like this one) , we were the only guests at the time of our visit. We navigated the uneven, slippery path to the bottom of the falls, chasing after our guide as he easily made the decent.
After squeezing between rocks and using logs as balance beams, we stepped into a mist-filled cave next to the thundering falls (the locals refer to the falls as Volcanous Waterfall…and we understand why!). The moisture-rich air left us as drenched as if we had plunged into the pool, rather than standing next to it. We retraced out steps up to a lookout point where we could see the deluge of water spilling over the rocky edge.
Vietnam Central Highlands Countryside
On the way to Mr. Rot’s village, we traversed curvy, countryside roads. We briefly stopped at a hiking trail for a chance to stretch our legs. We trekked uphill to a lookout point where the valley and farms spread out below us. The scene was not what I envisioned Vietnam would look like – and it made us wish we had scheduled more time for Dalat trekking on our trip.
Dalat Coffee Farm
Coffee is big business in Vietnam, but it’s not easy work. Farmers battle the weather (having to fetch water by hand from rivers when it doesn’t rain enough) and workers often encounter poisonous snakes during harvest. Regardless of the efforts, the prices rise and fall based on the Brazilian coffee market.
From the roadside, Mr. Rot led us into a coffee plantation (and I kept an eye out for snakes!). The coffee trees densely covered the hillside. Small green buds clung to the branches in clusters but were not yet ready for harvest.
Just across the street was another plantation, but this one was a Spice Farm. The spice is made from the seeds of a walnut-sized fruit. When the fruit is opened, the red seeds are removed, dried and ground into powder. However, if the seeds are not dried out, they can be used for other things…like lipstick. All-natural and long-lasting, it’s not a bad color!
A K’Ho Village
The next stop on our Vietnam Central Highlands Tour was visiting a Vietnam K’Ho village; the one where Mr. Rot grew up. While all of the other stops could easily be visited on a typical Dalat motorbike tour, visitors need a local guide (like Mr. Rot) to be welcomed into the K’Ho Village. And, it was the absolute highlight of our Dalat Tour.
We turned off the main road and bounced and bumped our way along the narrow path until simply constructed homes came into view. Pigs, roosters and geese roamed free, traveling in herds and squawking. We arrived at Mr. Rot’s home and met a man hand-making a birdcage. In the backyard, where a picnic table was set up for our lunch, laundry was hanging on the line and butterflies as big as birds danced above our heads. We were introduced to our host’s sister, who had made a traditional dish of crispy tofu with noodles, complimented by a spicy soy sauce.
During our lunch, Mr. Rot and his friend talked to us about Vietnamese customs and culture. We learned that many Vietnamese people envy large noses, pale skin and a man’s rounded belly (which represents wealth). How they use their hands is also important, like using both hands to give someone money and never crossing fingers for good luck (which in Vietnam is equivalent to giving someone the bird).
Our group talked and laughed – Mr. Rot is always laughing! – at differences in our cultures and customs. Mr. Rot encouraged us to get friendly in a couple rounds of drinking games, even though there was no alcohol involved. After a few rounds, we were all laughing so hard, the neighbors probably thought we were drunk. We felt like welcomed guests in his home – and the complete strangers we started the day with were now new friends.
Mr. Rot took us on a walk through his village to introduce us to some of his neighbors. Most of the residents were born and raised in the village…and most never leave. The K’Ho people speak their own language – and many not able to speak or understand Vietnamese.
They call all Caucasians “Americans” (even though the other five people with us were European) and as we walked down the street our host had to repeatedly answer the question, “What are these American’s doing here?”
A Look Inside a Local Home
He asked one woman if we could come into her home and visit with her; after slightly protesting that her house wasn’t clean, she obliged. Wooden slats served as walls that didn’t quite connect to the sheet metal roof. The rays of sunlight that filtered through were the only source of light. The floor was dirt.
Other women from the village stopped by and crammed into the small house. Our host translated anytime we asked a question and all seven women would emphatically respond, yelling over each other; their passion clearly displayed in their facial expressions. It was wildly entertaining, crazier than Thanksgiving dinner after all the wine has been consumed, and I desperately wished I knew exactly what they were saying.
All of the women in the village know how to make fabric – and they showed us the tedious process. They showed us how to extract cotton from the plant using a tool to remove the seeds (and saving them to replant). Then they use a spinner to make tread and a loom to make the fabric. Expert weavers, the loom is suspended by their feet and strapped around their backs and within hours they are able to complete intricately designed fabric needed for an entire, local-style dress.
Tasting Local Stew
The woman of the house offered to share her food – and insisted we try her stew stored in wooden flasks. We consented – not wanting to be rude – and sipped from the jug. (We later learned it was spicy rat stew that was made a few days prior…my stomach turns every time I think about it.) We thanked her profusely for sharing her food and welcoming us into her home. When it was time to leave, we learned how to say ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ in their language and repeated it several times as we walked back in the direction of our host’s house.
Back in the city, Mr. Rot invited us to join him for dinner at one of the local Dalat restaurants. He took us to an inconspicuous place on a quiet side street, where he took the reigns and ordered food for the entire table without needing a menu. Dish after dish came out of the kitchen and traditional Dalat food covered our table – including snake, frog, seafood and, yes, even dog.
Dalat Bar and Karaoke
After dinner, we traveled as a group to a Vietnamese karaoke and dancing bar where we met some of Mr. Rot’s friends. Not at all the obnoxious scene we imagined it would be, they take their singing seriously. They are equally serious about ballroom dancing. Couples performed perfectly practiced steps to the karaoke-sung songs.
It was odd, but incredibly entertaining. We were encouraged – but not applauded – for our on-stage performance (99 Luft Balloons and Sweet Dreams Are Made of This) – and all dancing stopped during our five minutes of fame. When we hit the dance floor, our moves did less to impress – but we followed Mr. Rot’s lead and laughed and danced until the bar closed.
Vietnam Central Highlands Tour Tips
A few things to know and tips to make sure your day in enjoyable!
Motorbikes vs. Van
When we took our Dalat, Vietnam tour, there was an option to ride motorbikes or take a van. The first participants to sign up opted for the van – and we were glad they did! We were able to talk as we rode together from sight to sight…and I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about spending an entire day on a motorbike. Inquire early if either method of transport is a must for you!
Dalat Tour Guide
In addition to Mr. Rot, we were joined by a second Dalat guide on our trip – and he was equally as fabulous! There are many tours and tour guides in Vietnam, but we have never laughed and learned more than we did with our two guides!
What To Bring
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Bring water and sunscreen or a hat – as you will spend a lot of time outdoors. Don’t forget your camera (but be respectful and don’t take any pictures when visiting the village; the people are not on display).
It’s always important to have travel insurance – but even more so when traveling through the countryside of Vietnam. Travel protected with a company like World Nomads.
Want more Dalat tips?! Check out our guide of the Top Things To Do in Dalat, Vietnam!
More Dalat Day Tours
Looking for other tours in Dalat? We only took the Dalat Secret Tour, but you might want to check out these tours, too!
The city of Dalat is not to be missed! On a Dalat city tour, visitors will learn about the history and see the city sights. Get more information about booking this Dalat private tour!
Dalat Adventure Tours
City and van tours aren’t the only option in Dalat! Experience the city and region on one of these adventure tours!
Take an epic bike ride from Dalat to Nha Trang with a professional guide and support vehicle. Find out more!
Canyoning and Trekking Vietnam Central Highlands
Hike, zipline and abseil on an adrenaline-packed adventure tour through the Central Highlands. Get the details!
Book highly-rated Dalat, Vietnam tours on Viator!
We want to know: Have you toured the Vietnam Central Highlands? Did you take the Secret Tour? What was the highlight of your Dalat tour? Give us your best tips and advice in the comments below!
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