Vietnam rain forest and hills of plantations is the sixth post in a series of Vietnam experiences storied by Rochelle Porper, for the previous ones please read these.

Vietnam rain forest

So I will tell you a little bit about the other people in our group. Diane and her daughter Natasha are the only other guests apart from Sam and me. Natasha is a little wisp of a thing. She is 21 and absolutely beautiful and surprisingly articulate and fearless. Her voice reminds me of crystal because it is so soft. She is reading her way through the classics for something fun to do. Natasha is in definite contrast to her mother, who is very timid and often looks bewildered by our experiences. For example, when we cross the street, we are usually half way up the block before we realize that Diane isn’t with us. We look behind, and she will be stuck in the middle of the street, terror stricken by the mopeds. One of us will go back and rescue her and onward we go. They are both lovely travel companions. Then there is Long, who told us his life story today. It is so harrowing and politically incorrect that I can’t really write about it, out of respect for him but if you are interested, ask me one day and I will tell you.

Today actually was an unbelievably spectacular day. Once our official communist guide joined us, we drove to one of Vietnam’s National Parks. Along the way, this guy told us his version of Vietnam’s history. He was telling us about how all of the religions came to be practiced here, the Catholics, Protestants and Bapsticks. He kept calling them Bapsticks and we were trying not to laugh because lord knows – he could have been offended and then who knows what could have happened. It was totally hilarious. Anyway, the National Park was incredible – it was Vietnam’s version of the rain forest and it was very different from other rain forests I have seen.

There were really no birds around, it was so freaking hot they were probably hiding, but there were huge bumble bees everywhere. Of course, we started referring to them as Bumble B 52s, which was appropriate after all. The park had spectacular waterfalls – one after another. They looked like miniature Niagara’s, but you could get right up close to them and feel the power of the pounding water. It was intoxicating. And it was the only time during the day that it actually felt cool because of the mist raining down on us. I am sure that one of my most enduring memories of Vietnam will be of dripping sweat wherever we went.

Endless hills of coffee, black pepper and tea

After we left the park, we hopped in the van and started the long drive to Pleiku, where we are now. I wish I could describe what the scenery is like. First of all, Vietnam is the second largest exporter of coffee and the largest exporter of black pepper in the world. Interspersed between huge coffee plantations and pepper plants are miles of shacks with people sitting around drinking tea and watching the world go by. The cows and water buffaloes walk in the streets and men in women chase after them.

Remember I told you about the happy houses? Well – here is how it works. I guess Long has done this trip so many times that he knows where the ‘best’ ones are (term used liberally). So the van pulls over in front of someone’s house, and we all just walk into the house and use the facilities. It is unbelievable. It doesn’t matter that no one knows who we are – we just walk in. This is the custom. And everyone is friendly and welcoming and I have never seen anything like it.

At one point along the road, we pass a house that has rows and rows of bamboo poles in the front yard, and they are draped with noodles drying in the sun. We pull over and of course, walk right into the person’s house. It’s the local noodle factory, and because we can, just give ourselves a tour. Its hard to get used to this – it feels so invasive – but everyone smiles and it seems perfectly normal to them. The house is full of chickens and in the back, there are three huge pigs in the living room. All the kids want to get their pictures taken because we are a novelty. We find out that the house next door is the rice factory, so by now you know the drill. We help ourselves to a tour of this place too – which is literally a one room shack with machinery that is at least 60 years old. The lady who processes the rice for this village is the richest person in town. There sure isn’t much to show for it.

One more story, which is so telling about the people here. We pull over again some time later because Long wants to show us a pepper plantation. Of course, it’s somebody’s house but by now, we kind of expect we will be traipsing through. The man is so nice and wants to pick fruit for us and show us his farm. I don’t know how word got around so quickly, but all of a sudden, two young men from the neighboring house appear and want to meet us. They can’t speak English but Long translates. They say they are so honored that we have come to visit their neighborhood and they want to give us a present. They made us an origami heart and a twin dove out of money to give to us – the heart so that we will always keep Vietnam in our hearts, and the doves for peace. This practically brings tears to my eyes, given what we have done to these people.

Black pepper plantation

So tomorrow we go into the hills (accompanied by another communist official) to see how the remote people live. They are un-accustomed to many seeing Westerners and this experience will be mind-blowing I am sure.

Well, that’s it for today. Again, thank you guys so much for being so generous in your emails. I will continue to send them as long as you continue to enjoy them!

by Rochelle Porper from Boston, Massachusetts, USA

For the next ones among this Vietnam travel experience, you can jump to the following days.

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