Epic, epic and epic. That’s the three words to describe the motorcycle trip from which me and Tommi just arrived from a few hours ago. Maybe a few more epics and you might get the picture, but I don’t want to over-use it so three will do this time. We booked the trip on the day we arrived here in Dalat, and spent the remaining day going around the city with our rental automatic bikes. The following morning we met with our soon-to-be tour guide, Mr. Chung, a Vietnam war veteran among other things (quite a character), and strapped our bags on the bikes, ready to start towards our first destination, Lak Lake, some 160km ride from Dalat.
The last time I drove a manual bike (with a clutch, that is) was maybe 11 years ago when I had my 50cc moped, so the first kilometers in the busy Dalat morning traffic were a little bit exciting, but I was surprised to realize how easy it all came back to me, and after the first hour or so I already felt like I was controlling the bike, and not the other way around 🙂 Also, the difference to the small automatic bikes I’ve driven so many times during this trip was striking. The ride is so much smoother, it’s like this kind of bike was made for the bumpy roads of Vietnam 🙂
After a few hours of driving Tommi managed to drive into a nail (how could he not see that? :P), which eventually punctured his rear tire from two(!) places, so we had to take a quick break to change the inner tube. And when I say we, I mean Mr. Chung changed it, and me and Tommi drank some Coke and gazed into the beautiful mountains 🙂
During the first day we covered some 160km, out of which maybe 50 km were something between a road and a roller coaster. I mean, how can you have a road that’s so bumpy you have to zig-zag avoiding the one-foot deep holes in it. Ever heard of asphalt? 😛 Well, in the end it wasn’t so bad, but after a while it became a little bit annoying to drive tens of kilometers on the second gear.. 🙂 But I guess that’s the price to pay for such an awesome scenery and for the possibility to visit the local minority villages (which was nice).
During the trip we got the chance to see how everything is made! Literally, everything, since Vietnam actually produces it, everything, cotton, silk, coffee, peppers (we were where pepper grows, haha). rice (duh), honey, avocados, passion fruit, you name it, they make it. I bet you didn’t know Vietnam is the second biggest coffee producer after Brazil, at least I didn’t, and they produce Arabica, Robusta, Mocca, everything. How cool is that? Really cool, I can tell you.
After riding those bumpy roads on the first day we were rewarded with the most awesome serpentine road going up and down the mountain range. Too bad I don’t have the words to describe the feeling you have when you accelerate on the smooth asphalt and lean the bike to tackle a corner after corner while a truly breathtaking mountain landscape opens all around you. Man, I could have driven there forever!
So, we stopped at Lak Lake around nightfall, and spent the night at what was some kind of Easy Rider hotel & restaurant. We had an amazing dinner with barbecued boar and fish, topped with some Hanoi vodka of course. After the dinner we had absolutely no problems getting sleep, and in the morning we were more than eager to hop on the bikes and rev up 🙂
On the second day we drove around 200km from Lak Lake to Gia Nghia, the capital city of the newly established province. On the way we got used to the Vietnamese style of driving, which is a little bit different from how we tend to drive in Europe 🙂 On the bigger roads you need to stay alert and be ready to use the full width of the road if necessary, for example when there’s three cars coming the opposite direction (who said you couldn’t overtake a car which is overtaking another car?) At least you don’t fall asleep on the bike when you get the sudden adrenaline rushes 😛 Another funny thing was in Gia Nghia, where they have built a nice road through the city which has two lanes to both direction separated by a concrete wall. Well, I’m sure it was intended that the other side is for vehicles going the other way, and the other side is for the vehicles going the opposite way. But hey, the local people decided it’s much better that you drive both ways on either side of the concrete wall 😀 I have to say I was a little bit confused in the beginning.. 😀
At first I was a little bit disappointed to notice that the bikes were only 125cc, but I soon realized that’s all you need for the roads in Vietnam, because there’s hardly any road where you could drive faster than 60-70km/h, and in many places the bumpy roads forced us to do no more than 30km/h on average, but actually the thing is, you get to enjoy the landscape much more with those speeds and also, you can grip it light, driving all relaxed 🙂
Our tour guide, Mr. Chung was absolutely fantastic. He had been an Easy Rider guide for more than 10 years and probably knows all of the roads by heart. He explained enthusiastically about the agricultural production and about the customs and habits of all the minorities we stumbled upon (apparently there’s 53 different minorities in Vietnam). We got the chance to visit their villages, taste their food, peek in their houses and and one point Mr. Chung was already negotiating about a marriage from a family whose mother was eager to send her daughter all the way to cold Finland 😀
Mr. Chung also knew all the best restaurants and because of that, the trip became a culinary journey to Vietnam. But who would like to drive with an empty stomach anyway? 🙂 We also visited many animal farms and saw countless number of different animals, like elephants, sheep, water buffalo, snakes and scorpions (and chicken and dogs of course who populate the roads and try to get themselves killed). Mr. Chung, who by now is my personal idol, had always many stories to tell about his colorful life. Maybe the most striking stories after the ones about the Vietnam War was the one when he had to kill a black bear with a spear. In any case, there was no boring moment with him, what an awesome tour guide. I’m happy to send you his phone number if you ever want to make a motorbike trip in Vietnam 🙂
As you can see, I run out of things to say, but I guess you get the picture by now already. This trip was AWESOME and I’m already dreaming about taking a 15-20 day trip with Mr. Chung all the way from Hanoi to Saigon. Mmm, perhaps next year, if there’s any chance for a holiday in SE Asia 🙂
Now we are leaving the dusts of Dalat behind us with a night bus to Saigon. From there Tommi will head back to Finland, and I’ll be on my way to the island of Phu Quoc, where I’ll spend the last 10 days before coming back home 🙂 Already miss Finland 🙂