Grab a cup of tea and let’s go to Vietnam…
I spent a month in Vietnam traveling from north to south. It was quite the journey and an amazing adventure. I had a friend fly in to join me for 3 of the four weeks. We were pretty constantly on the go from city to city… we wanted to see it all. As you can imagine, a month is not nearly enough time to do Vietnam any justice. I will return again soon. The food was incredible… Mmmmm pho, how I love thee.
I knew that I wanted to spend sometime checking out some of the tea scene while I was there. My friend isn’t nearly as excited about tea as I am, so it was a matter of finding time to build it in and still ensure she enjoyed the visit!
We ended up traveling apart for a few days towards the end of the month, and that is when I visited Da Lat.
Da Lat is a city higher up in the mountains… its approximately 1600 meters above sea level. It was a peaceful place, not too busy and signs of nature everywhere.
I decided on Da Lat because I knew there was a tea farm located about an hour outside of Da Lat.
I rented a scooter and strapped on my helmet. I as on my way. Don’t tell me Mom, I don’t think she would be too happy. Even as an adult, I imagine she would worry. 🙂
The sky was threatening ominously from above. The air smelled of that pre-rain smell. I felt at any point it could open up and I would be forced to turn around.
I pushed onward.
Up and down, left and right, I wound myself over the mountain ranges towards my destination.
It began to sprinkle. Keep going I told myself. I have to see this place.
The smells of the country side where amazing. I caught notes of fresh coriander in the air. It was so refreshing and tantilizing.
Up another crest, I had to stop for a quick picture… still sprinkles of rain from above falling.
Just a bit further.
About 10 minutes more and I see a sign for Cau Da Lat Tea Farms. I take a left and start down the road.
At the same time the sky has decided it has held off long enough and it begins to pelt me with giant drops of rain…
Even so, I make a quick stop in the parking lot to admire the view before heading further into the farm to the Farm’s Cafe for some shelter.
I park my bike at the Cafe and run inside. I order a green tea and a chocolate cake. I will have to wait out the rain, so why not indulge myself a little.
I head up to the top floor where I find floor to ceiling windows on all sides. On the other side of the glass is panoramic views of tea fields on all sides! The lines of the bushes are jutting out in all directions.
I grab a seat on the floor and take it all in… Ahhh, I love this. This is what I came to see.
The hustle and bustle of Vietnam is incredible, but this is quite the opposite. After weeks of the former I am happy to find myself in this tranquil place.
I listen to the rain pitter patter on the roof and windows. I breath. I sip my tea and savor my cake. I am happy.
After about 30 minutes or so of this, the skies begin to clear up a little. My smile grows…
I clean up my trash and head out for a stroll among the tea bushes.
Off to the left there is a large hill with tea bushes flanking all sides. It looked like it would offer a great view of the valleys below, so I headed up.
It was a little slippery, but I managed to get to the top. When I got to the top, I was created by one of the most breathtaking views. On all sides there were miles and miles of tea bushes to be seen. In the distance the mountains were hoovering over the valleys below.
I smiled. THIS is what I came to see.
At this point, I decided to pull out my drone to take some aerial video and photos to capture this place from another perspective.
I fly my drone for the next 30 minutes or so, even as sprinkles of rain begin to fall. Hopefully the drone would survive… I wasn’t done capturing this place. Thankfully it did. I gave it a quick wipe when it landed and put it back in my bag.
I then continued my exploration of the area. I stumbled upon a greenhouse where they were growing some beautiful flowers of both yellow and orange. I took a few photos for my Mom; she loves flowers, and they always make me think of her.
I continued on and started to make my way back towards where I had started, but on the other side of the hill.
At this point I spied a group of 10 or so ladies working their way up and down the rows of a section of tea plants off in the distance. They are picking the leaves and collecting them in giant plastic bags.
As I came closer they began to look up and notice me. They stopped to stare, and smile, turning to each other to seemingly discuss this strange man walking down the road. At this point I had a rather large beard, so I would assume this was a topic of their discussion (as was often the case in Vietnam).
As I get closer I see two of these workers off to the left sorting through the picked tea leaves. I later learn that they are looking for anything that shouldn’t be there (mostly weeds).
I stop and inquire/getsure with my hands if it would be okay to take a few pictures. They seem to be okay with it — they smile and nod in my direction. I take a quick video as they sort through the leaves and laugh a little to each other.
I then am approached by a man who tells me he is the site manager. We chat for a few minutes about the area. He tells me that once the leaves are sorted they will be taken down the road to the factory where they will begin the drying process. He indicates that I should visit on my scooter before I go.
He then grants me permission to go up into the fields to take a few more pictures of the workers as they pick the leaves.
After taking some more photos I thank him and bid him farewell. I begin to walk back to my bike considering the time and the drive home that I must make before the sun goes down…
I really wanted to check out the factory, but I knew it would be close on time. I had one additional stop to make on the way home.
I decide that I will delay my departure for a quick visit of the factory.
Now I had read online before that there was a factory, but that it was not open to tourists. However, the field manager had seemed to indicate it would be okay (there was a slight language barrier, but we managed.)
I got on my scooter and headed off in the direction. As I neared the end of the road Icame upon a giant gate with the name of the tea farm “Cau Da Lat”. I drove through.
As I did this, a security guard stepped out of his booth off to the right at the entrance and said something to me in Vietnamese. I did not know what he was saying but he was pointing in the other direction and seemed to be indicating that the factory was not open (I assumed to the public as there were scooters lining the building to my left.)
I was disappointed, but had to respect his request for me to leave.
Just then a man walked out of one of the buildings and says to me in english, “Hey, what are you doing here?”
“I wanted to come see the factory,” I reply.
“Why?” he asks.
“Because I love tea,” I say.
He considers this for a moment. “Okay, park your bike over there.”
Really? I think. Yes! I am excited once again.
He introduces himself as Charlie. He is an architect from Australia (he is also Vietnamese). He informs me that the tea farm/factory is undergoing some renovations and that the owner of the farm has hired him to create an environment for tourist to come and see the farm, enjoy some tea (and coffee, also a lot of coffee in the area), and have lunch. Basically, they were turning it into more of a tourist attraction. Tea tourism is becoming a thing in Vietnam!
He first shows me where the bags of tea leaves I had seen earlier being picked and sorter were going. We walk through a building off to the left where a young lady is weigh the leaves and then placing them into drying baskets.
We walk through a room where there are rows and rows of these drying baskets stacked 8-10 high on metal carts. I snapped a few photos.
He then shows me some of the drying equipment and tells me that they had just finished a large batch of oolong in the previous week.
He tells me how they produce both oolong tea and also green tea at the factory. He tells me that the oolong is more profitable and that they export a lot of it to places like Taiwan and China. This surprised me.
He continues to show me around. We come into a room where some of the original
processing machines still can still be found. He explains that even though it is no longer being used, he wants to keep it to add some authenticity to the space.
He shows me that on the other side of this large room they have created a large cafe with a tea/coffee bar in the middle. It was beautiful!
He informs me that it will hopefully open up at the end of 2017 or early 2018. I feel so lucky to be getting a private tour of the space!
He then takes me out to the back of the space across from the parking lot and shows me where they will build a large deck for people to come and enjoy the beautiful panoramic views of the area. Again there are tea bushes (and also some coffee plants) going on for miles!
We then walk back towards the main building where he introduces me to a few of the staff members telling them that I am a tea lover and that is why I am visiting.
They then invite me to join them in the managers office for some of their recently produced tea.
We sit down as the manager brews two different teas for me to try. We then spend the next hour enjoying two delicious oolong teas. Charlie translates and we have a nice conversation.
Before I leave, they give me an unexpected gift of two bags of the tea that we had been drinking earlier. I thank them and offer up a big smile.
I then get on my bike to head back into town. As I ride home I find myself smiling both on the outside, but also on the inside.
Charlie and everyone else I had met at the tea farm were so kind and welcoming. They made me feel very special as their guest. I felt honored (and very lucky) to have been invited into the factory.
In the end got MORE than what I came for… It was truly an exceptional day.