On the Road around Dalat
Dalat was a nice surprise.  Way up in the central highlands, it's the honeymoon capital of Vietnam, so it's got nice parks, bountiful verdant gardens and fresh clean air.  It's just a darn pleasant town, with its own little version of the Eiffel Tower and a lake, pleasant weather and even a golf course (the only one we've seen so far in southeast Asia), but it's got a few interesting eccentricities as well.  "People do crazy things around here," we were told.  So it seems.

November 15 -- The city seemed to be surrounded by high hills and pine forests, so we figured a tour of the countryside was in order.  There were six of us in the little mini-van as we set out in the morning: Andrew and Mary from Melbourne, Australia; two Americans, Tom and Eli (we hadn't really met them yet, but they were on our bus on the long and challenging journey from Hoi An and again later on the bus into Dalat); me and Carol; plus our driver and our guide.

Our guide was convinced that love made people do crazy things, but in addition, this was a region full of more crazy things.  To prove his point he took us to the village of the Giant Chicken.  Later we visited the pagoda of the Crazy Monk, and the jumbled assortment of rooms in the Crazy House.  It was all quite charming.

Our guide was a young single guy.  "A yin, searching for his yang," as he explained it. He gave us a pretty thorough assessment of recent changes in Vietnam, and the growing role of Buddhism in it all as he toured us through a large, relaxing mountainside pagoda.  Dalat had escaped much of the devastation we'd seen in other parts of the country.  It felt a lot more relaxed and easy-going.

The Chicken Village was something else altogether!  An ethnic minority known as the K'Ho, relocated by the government from the mountains, had settled in one of the most fertile valleys, with the best vegetable gardens we'd ever seen. Corn, tomatoes, carrots, coffee and yes, chickens all flourished here. In the hills, the K'Do had practiced a slash-and-burn agriculture. Now they had better land, and additional support for their schools and education.  As usual, the kids were excited by visitors.

The "Big Chicken" at the village of K'Dong, near Dalat

It was difficult to get a straight answer as to why this K'Ho ethnic minority village had a giant chicken in the first place.  Certainly it made it easier to find, but the official story had it that the chicken was there to remind people to get up early and go to work.  Heck, any ol' chicken can do that!

Thon Da Ra Hoa is a weaver from the nearby village of K'Dong.  She learned her craft from her mother and grandmother, and lives in a seven loom household along with the two of them and her four weaving sisters.

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