My Encounter With A Crying Elephant

During my recent ventures around Southern Vietnam I saw one of the most heart-breaking sights I’ve ever seen in my life…

We had taken a picnic to a remote little forest outside of Da Lat. We were just about to tuck into our lunch by the resevoir when we noticed a ginormous, graceful Elephant walking towards us! We were totally baffled, but then it dawned on us that a western couple and a Vietnamese driver were riding the poor thing on a short circuit. As a huge Elephant fan I was both delighted and saddened to see the elephant, as knowing Asia’s bad reputation of caring for animals in captivity I could only presume the poor conditions it was being kept in. The Elephant (and passengers) gracefully stomped past us, narrowly avoiding our lunch, and after a short ride through the forest they returned to a nearby restaurant where the creature was being detained.

After our picnic we headed over to the Elepahnt. It was lunch time, in the background we could hear large groups of Vietnamese people delving into feasts, so our new friend was having a break from her duties as entertainment. We were happily touching her from a raised platform and stroking her tough old trunk when we noticed she was crying. Yes, crying. We couldn’t actually believe it, but real tears were dropping from her eyes. We were heartbroken and even more so when she wiped her tears with her trunk.

Elephants are a huge tourist trap in South East Asia, drawing large crowds of travellers eager to meet the beutiful beasts in their jungle habitat. Sadly, many of the Elephant rides, treks and even some sanctuaries abuse, sedate and enslave Elephants purely so tourists can take a slefie and ride on it’s back.

To be fair, I believe most tourists naively assume the animals are being kept in good and healthy condition and are disappointed to discover otherwise. More often than not the Elephants are trained using hooked sticks (the scars of which were still visible on our friend today), and live a much shorter life expectancy than in the wild – it’s been clear to me on the various occasions I’ve encountered Elephants in Thailand and Vietnam that the beasts are miserable.

Please, please, please think twice about supporting establishments that offer Elephant rides or use Elephants for amusement. There are some genuine Elephant sanctuaries and charities which are well worth supporting and absolutely deserve your money. Watching the Elephant chained by one ankle in solitary, with huge tears rolling down her cheeks was  a deeply saddening experience – I don’t think I’ve never felt more moved by or connected to an animal before. It reminds me that we have the power to boycott such places to avoid the continued mistreatment of Elephants, and indeed all other specieis in similar situations.

This is a really interesting article about the Elephant Do’s and Don’t’s in Chiang Mai: www.traveldudes.org/ chiang-mai-elephant-dos-and-donts

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Da Lat, Vietnam

Da Lat is really quite different to anywhere else I have visited in Vietnam. In fact it doesn’t feel Vietnamese at all (besides the motorbikes, Pho restaurants and Vietnamese people, that is). I had been looking forward to visiting Da Lat the most on my tour of the south as it’s the wine region of Vietnam, a more favourable climate and a stark contrast both naturally and architecturally to the rest of Vietnam. Da Lat delivered on all three fronts, and exceed my expectations.

Looking around at first glance, you think that you’ve been dropped off in the Alpes: the steep, winding roads up to the mountain town are surrounded by tall forests of pine trees – a landscape like no other in Vietnam. Once over the crest of the hill, we were totally baffled to see what appears to be a charming little French town, surrounding a beautifully landscaped lake.

Despite being a relatively small place, Da Lat is becoming a popular destination amongst backpackers. There are plenty of options to do outdoor and adventure pursuits (such as canyoning, white-water rafting, abseiling, rock climbing and cave exploration) at a reasonable cost. This was something we decided to avoid on this trip, but heard form numerous sources that it’s well worth the money and one of the highlights of being in Vietnam.

If you’re looking for somewhere a little more familiar to home, a little less hectic than other Vietnamese towns, and lungful’s of fresh mountain air, you should put Da Lat on your travel bucket list!

Things to do:

  • 100 Roofs Cafe100 Roofs Cafe (tunnels bar) – You must visit this bar at least once during your stay in Da Lat. Created 25 years ago, the building has been transformed into a labyrinth of staircases, passageways, tunnels, alcoves and a rooftop garden. It was unbelievable! (Apparently this is much better than the famous Da Lat ‘Crazy House’)
  • Rent motorbikes – most hotels/hostels will offer a motorbike rental service, in Da Lat it was especially worth doing. It set us back 100,000 VND for the day and gave us total freedom to explore the countryside, the reservoir, the cable cars and the farms
  • Buy a picnic from the Big C supermarket, drive your motorbike to the reservoir and take in the view – an absolute highlight during my time in Da Lat
  • Thien Vien Truc Lam (cable car) – this was a really nice little excursion, and again, a very French thing to enjoy. A return on the cable car will cost you 70,000 VND which is well worth doing as there is a monastery and one end of the cable car (remember to dress modestly if you wish to enter the monastery) and beautiful views across the city and beyond.
  • Elephant falls – We didn’t really know what to expect when we ventured off to find the falls. True to Vietnamese form, it’s terribly signposted so we were a little bit lost, but it was brilliant once we got there (at last) The falls are relatively spectacular, but it’s the boulders and ambling you have to do to get to it which makes it really enjoyable afternoon. Staircases and steps have been carved into the boulders which make it relatively hard work (thank you Vietnamese health and safety…), but brilliant fun nonetheless.
  • Rent swan pedalos on the lake – only 60,000 VND and a pretty view of the town and the lake!

 

Eating Out:

When it came to eating out in Da Lat, we mainly stuck to the very Vietnamese streets our hotel was on, as they offered traditional Vietnamese cuisine at local prices. Our absolute favourite thing to eat was Cha Ram Bap (a Da Lat speciality). It’s essentially DIY spring rolls, with a bettered corn/rice falafel which you add salad and picked cucumber to and then dunk in satay sauce. Delicious, and only 15,000 VND!

Accommodation:

We spent three nights at the Thein Hoang Guesthouse on Nguyen Cong Tru street. It was a 2 km walk away from the tourist area, which we preferred, and excellent value for money. We paid 460,000 VND for a double bedroom for 3 nights (which worked out about 65,000 VND per person, per night). However, the room was very basic and being next door to the road meant that we were up with the Vietnamese traffic ever morning before 7am (which sort of worked in our favour in the end as it meant we made the most of the day).