This morning began with a legover and a small Vietnamese man between my thighs as I saddled up behind my tour guide for a trip into the central highlands (you can insert your own helmet-polishing joke as you see fit).
First stop, a cricket farm. Here, breakfast consisted of deep fried grasshoppers in a rice flour batter. Not the world's most interesting foodstuff, but tasty enough when smothered with chilli sauce. And definitely more palatable than the cow's eyeballs for sale at the nearby market. We also saw a butchered dog there but declined to eat any on account of the swarm of flies buzzing around it.
Our guide, the estimable Rot, also showed us to a stall selling some truly unusual products… In Vietnam, the date of one's death is celebrated far more elaborately than the day of your birth. Many Vietnamese people don't know when their birthday even is, as everyone simply adds a digit to their age at new year. But the anniversary of your death is believed to be the only day you can return to the earth to communicate with your family. On these days, paper goods are burned so that dead ancestors may take them with them to their next life. And this stall sold the lot: paper scooters, shirts and ties, bundles of money, even mobile phones complete with sim cards. Bizarrely touching.
We were really lucky to visit our next stop. Our guide was originally born into a mountain tribe but was adopted by a Vinh (everyday Vietnamese) family at the age of twelve. This meant that he spoke Vietnamese, but was also fluent in the language of the hill people whose village he took us to. In one of the local houses Rot and one of the women of the tribe told us amazing stories about marriage in the village, where men are bought by their wife's family as husbands. Often the wife is significantly older than her husband, too - a complete reversal of the norm in most societies.
Despite being offered free schooling, further education and medical treatment, it is rare for anyone to break the strong family binds here. Women prefer to have their babies in the village - using a language which was utterly alien to us, our host managed to relay the story of the day she gave birth in a hospital to us in hilarious fashion. Her gestures, facial expressions and actions left us in no doubt that she didn't enjoy the experience. It goes without saying that her four other children were born at home.
We also got to see amazingly skilful cotton production by one of the two elderly ladies still able to produce such material by traditional methods, and her granddaughter learning to weave this cotton onto colourful skirts for the ladies of the village to wear on special occasions.
Over a vegetarian lunch (prepared by Rot's sister - a Buddhist nun) and fruits I'd never eaten before (custard apple, langons, sapodilla, water apple, jackfruit seeds and more) we learned about Vietnamese customs, culture and language. This was far more informative and entertaining than any guidebook, but has left me pondering: in a country where being slim is a sign of poverty and being tanned means you're a lowly outdoor worker, how does my browned but bulbous body fit in? I'm a waddling contradiction.
The last few days have also seen us visit the beach resort of Nha Trang, where rain insured that we spent more time drinking and less time sunbathing. Unfortunately for us, snake wine was on the menu. Not pleasant. Although the preserved cobra we were left with did make a fun accessory for the night. We've also visited silk factories, maushroom farms and Dalat's Crazy House, where Gaudin-like architecture meets Dali-esque surrealism (interpreted by Vietnamese construction workers). It does exactly what it says on the tin: utterly nuts.