At home the Smoky Mountains are in our back yard and several other mountain ranges surround us. On any given day we would hike several miles just to gaze at a waterfall for a few hours or if we were lucky get a campsite next to one and let the roaring water lull us to sleep. All that said...we miss them. With its mountainous terrain Dalat has no shortage of waterfalls and today we hope to find two. We jump back on a motorbike and start our search late in the morning armed only with a cartoony tourist map and our guidebook.
We take the windy back roads, to avoid the oppressive traffic on Hwy 20. Soon we are headed down a steep, curvy road and the views are breathtaking.
We get to a small village and decide to stop for a coffee break. We are addicted to the iced coffee in SE Asia.
This is how its done in Vietnam...
The coffee is placed in a stainless steel coffee filter. The water is poured in and slowly drips through the coffee and out small holes in the bottom into a coffee cup were it mixes with the sweetened condensed milk that is at the bottom. Then it is poured over ice. The only problem with it is the portions are small and although it's incredibly strong you are left always wanting more because it tastes so good. After two cups you are so caffeinated that you begin to wonder if your heart might explode.
We stop after one cup, only because we've already had one for breakfast, and continue down this almost empty road. There are fields of coffee on both sides of us and the beans are spread across canvas drying in people's front yards. People use tools, their hands and feet to mix up the piles. We assume they are doing this to make sure it dries evenly. As we drive by I imagine how nice it would be to stick my feet in sun warmed coffee beans.
We keep driving past small villages and kids walking home from school.
Sixty kilometers later we arrive at the village of Nam Ban where the first waterfall is supposed to be. We drive through town and don't see any signs. Our guidebook said it was clearly marked, but once again it has lied to us. We notice a group of kids, pull over and the normal round of questions begins. "Where you from" "What your name?" We answer and when its our turn to ask a question "Elephant Falls?" they burst into laughter. We do this for a few more minutes while miming running water. Their smiling expressions turn into ones of confusion. Pete looks up the word for waterfall. "Thac?" he says. Then confusion turns into comprehension and they signal for us to go straight then right.
Elephant Falls is our first waterfall stop and we are not disappointed. It's one of the largest waterfalls either one of us has ever seen.
Its a short, slippery walk to the bottom. You can almost walk underneath the falls and the mist from the pounding water drenches our clothes.
The next waterfall is not so easy to find. We continue on an almost empty road occupied only by the occasional car and feather duster vendor.
We have to jump back on the Hwy 20. It is the main highway to Dalat and the Central Highlands. Its filled with giant tourists buses and cargo trucks. I cringe every time one passes us, usually only a few feet away. Pete once again seems unfazed. I eventually relax but am still longing to get off this road. From our crappy map and the guidebook we discern that we need to continue for about ten kilometers before we turn right onto a smaller road. Our odometer is broken. After twenty minutes we assume we have gone too far. Pete pulls over and I show a group of men doing construction where we want to go on the map. They argue amongst themselves for a few minutes, then decide we need to go another six kilometers (or wait...was that three?). One of the guys was nice enough to draw a map in the sand. Ten minutes down the road we almost give up, but ask again. They say we have gone to far. We backtrack and pick a road. This road is even more uninhabited than the first. At this point I don't even care if we get to the waterfall, because the scenery is so beautiful. We don't pass a single person. It's just rolling hills dotted with the occasional house.
Out in the middle of nowhere is a giant gate guarding the entrance to Pongour Falls. The place is empty and for a second we think it might be closed. The falls have been a huge tourist attraction for decades, but they built a damn, so we were told the falls were no more than a trickle.
A young kid suddenly appears and lets us in. The place is huge and swankily decorated, but it's a bit eerie because there is absolutely no one here. We get lost in the maze of sidewalks running into the sweetest dog we have met sinceRosalita in Baja.
Even with a lack of water the falls are still impressive.
Its five p.m. and we rush back to our bike wanting to make it home before dark, but still stopping to take a few photos on the way.
When we arive back at our hotel we are brimming with satisfaction. It was a perfect ride. The waterfalls were incredible, but today the cliche holds true...It's all about the journey not the destination.