Dalat, Vietnam: K’Lang and Ho-Biang: Shining Bright Like Diamonds

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Fellow Misadventurists: This entry was originally posted on Stax’ blog, gypsytrampthief.wordpress.com.

There were once two hill tribes that lived uncomfortably close at the foot of a mountain. They were called the Lach and the Chil and they hated each other. A lot. It seems that in general, they were pretty good at maintaining a safe distance from one another. That is, until Fate intervened.

I realize I'm mixing my mythologies, but you get the gist.  www.theoi.com

One day, K’Lang, a boy from the Lach tribe, happened upon Ho-Biang, a girl of the Chil tribe. Their eyes met, their hearts raced, and in an instant they were experiencing chemically induced euphoria, excitement, bonding… In short, they were falling fast into forbidden love.

Chemical_basis_of_love

They wanted to marry, but it had been decreed many, many years ago (so many years that no one knew when or by whom) that people from different tribes could not marry. This did not deter them. Defying their parents, elders, tribe members, and years of tradition and enmity, the two married anyway (in a private ceremony, I presume), then climbed to the top of the mountain, away from their respective tribes to live in peace. Things went pretty well until Ho-Biang became very ill and nothing in K’Lang’s experience could cure it.

Thinking that the Chil people might know what to do, K’Lang and Ho-Biang decided to make the long journey back down the mountain to Ho-Biang’s former village. Unbeknownst to them, the Chil tribe were anticipating the couple’s arrival and had specially prepared a poisoned arrow to pierce K’Lang’s heart.

poisonedarrow

Look out K’Lang! That’s a poisoned arrow! Image courtesy exploringworldview.com

Upon entering Ho-Biang’s village, K’Lang plead with them to prepare a cure for his wife. But the villagers were too angry to listen. Blinded by vengeance toward this Lach tribesman for stealing their daughter from them, they aimed, shot and let the arrow fly. It looked like K’Lang was done for.

But despite her grave illness, Ho-Biang jumped in front of the arrow to save her beloved and died instantly. K’Lang died just afterward, devastated by his beloved’s death.

Realizing too late the error of hating one’s neighbors, Ho-Biang’s father decided it was time to unite the hill tribes of Lach, Chil, and a few others to become K’ho. Now that they were one shiny happy people, members also had the right to marry outside without having to move to the top of a mountain or worry about poisoned arrows.

Shiny happy people holding hands.

In the meantime, the tombs of K’Lang and Ho-Biang grew to be two mountains, which the hill tribe members named LangBiang. Hundreds of years later, the Misadventurists (Beej and myself) visit this natural monument to lost love.

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We pass through the large yellow archway entrance and are greeted by a very old woman trying to sell us authentic purses, scarves and other trinkets. Atop a small hill, above the parking lot full of green Russian-style jeeps that take tourists up the mountain to the trailhead, a giant “LangBiang” rises, laid out in big white letters like the Hollywood sign.

Next to the sign there’s a statue of K’Lang and Ho-Biang. The doomed lovers stand on separate rocks facing each other, reaching out their hands in futility, angst etched into their faces.

Climbing the mountain by foot is free, but for a small fee ($2/pax), someone will drive us to the top in one of the green Russian jeeps. Cheap. But there’s a catch: they’ll only take us when the jeep is full.We’re the only tourists in the parking lot. We can wait for four other people to show up (which could be awhile here in the hot low season) or we can pay for all six seats ($12) and a guide will drive us up, no problem.

I don’t want to wait, though. Things in the parking lot have become…annoying. The sun is trying to kill me, beating my head with wrenches of of heat. The authentic old Lach tribal woman won’t accept that she’s struck out.  Her approach becomes more direct: she starts rubbing her belly with an exaggerated look of pain, holding out her hand and pointing to her mouth.

She won’t stop following us around the parking lot – from the motorbike parking, to the jeep ticket window, to the designated eating area, to the shade of one of the jeeps in the parking lot, and back to our motorbike, she seems to now be asking us to just feed her coins.

Then a boy of about 10 shows up out of nowhere. “Money” is his only greeting, and he holds out his hand in expectation.

So we begin our ascent. Soon we’re huffing and puffing up an almost vertical climb in the midday heat. This road is much steeper than we thought. Still, it is a tad cooler under the shade of the trees, the breeze constantly carries the odor of sweet pine to our nostrils, and the road is smoothly paved. Branches shimmy above me whenever the wind blows, and it’s quiet enough out here that I can hear them clearly.

trees

Pines on LangBiang mountain. Image (c) Benjamin J Spencer

Occasionally, a farmer roars past us on a motorbike, carrying huge loads balanced precariously to the back.  Farmers are the only motorbike riders allowed on this mountain, and summer seems to be the season of gathering branches.

We watch as a couple gathers summer-dried pine needles from the hillside and stuffs them into huge bags, which they then lift and tie carefully to the back of their waiting motorbike. Balancing the load and maneuvering through traffic would take a more experienced rider than I. It’s a good thing they start training early. In Vietnam, babies stand on the seats of motorbikes in front of their parents as soon as they can climb to their feet.

Thirty minutes into our climb, the first tourist jeep of many roars by, but it’s not the deafening engine noise that warns me of its approach. Instead, it’s Rhianna belting out, “Shine bright like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond.”

Shine bright like a diamond! Do it!

The top-40 hit echoes unnaturally across the previously peaceful countryside. It sounds like a dance party should be rocking the jeep, except no one on board looks amused nor is anyone dancing. By the time the sixth jeep passes us overloaded with grim-faced tourists, sure I’m feeling a bit sore from the climb, but I’m not disappointed at all that we’ve chosen to walk.

Two plus hours later, after talking briefly on the way to a German hiker from an island we’ve never heard of (Borkum??) we reach an area set aside for hiking.

In case you were wondering, there's Borkum!

There’s a shack there where we are instructed to pay a small entrance fee, but the place is deserted and doesn’t look like it’s been in use for a long while.

So we ditch the shack and continue along the switchback trail through the pine trees until we finally reach an overlook of DaLat city and the countryside surrounding it. It’s absolutely beautiful. The climb, the woman stalking us below, and even Rhianna occasionally screaming in our ears were worth it.

a view

However, we can’t stay too long. We still need to head down before it gets dark. We’re not too keen on our last sight being a green jeep mowing us down with Rihanna telling us that we’re “beautiful, like diamonds in the sky”.

Actually, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad way to go.

“Shine bright like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond…”

Actually, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad way to go.

“Shine bright like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond. Shine bright like a diamond…”