…you decide on a whim to bicycle to the next city 260 kilometers away instead of taking a bus.
We were in the beautiful central highlands city of Dalat, a former French hill town now known as the honeymoon spot for Vietnamese couples, and we were looking to head back down to the coast of Vietnam. Given the number of bus hours we have logged so far (check out our tracking page for the latest number), biking just seemed like much more fun! We were rewarded with soaring mountain roads overlooking rich, fluffy forests and manicured rice fields. We passed by coffee plantations, local villages with countless kids leaping and screaming “hello” from their stoops, and too many cow herds to count. On the ride, we were also able to see local industry first hand, ranging from growing roses, harvesting coffee, raising grasshoppers, making rice wine, weaving silk, and firing bricks – our very own live edition of “How Its Made”! This broke up the 6 hours or so of biking on the two-day trip, as did short rides in our support vehicle to make up the extra distance. The ride was not easy, but it was well worth it for the spectacular scenery and the fabulous descent we were rewarded with at the end. Our bike ride ended in Nha Trang, where we promptly booked onward travel to Hoi An,Vietnam. You’ll hear more on that in our next post. Hopefully we’ll get our video up of the ride shortly so you can experience it, too.
So how exactly did we get to Dalat? We left off in Kampot, where we alluded to our less than smooth journey to Vietnam. As a general rule, multiple any given bus time by 1.5 and you have your actual arrival time. Double is a little extreme. Our 9 hour ride from Kampot to Saigon somehow became 19; luckily we were in great company and made the most of the situation with a lovely 65-year old couple backpacking for four months and our good friend Daniel.
What was most interesting to me in Saigon was the history of the Vietnam War (or, as they call it, the American War). The pictures and stories were not easy to digest. I found that some exhibits were filled with emotion, like the photos of the effects of Agent Orange, while others demonstrated an apparent lack of emotion, for example, when our guide described the variety of vicious bamboo traps used against the American soldiers demonstrated at the Cu Chi Tunnels.
After dinner at Pho 2000 and a night of dancing at an expat bar in Saigon, we headed to Mui Ne, where we spent two days checking out the Egypt of Southeast Asia (the Mui Ne sand dunes) and learning how to windsurf. A short bus ride later, and we had arrived in Dalat.
In Dalat, it was wonderful to wake up to cool mountain air. Cafes are filled with men “chewing the fat” over a cup of local coffee or tea, and streets steeply wind in circles like San Francisco. Since the city is catered towards Vietnamese tourists and not Western tourists, we had a welcome break from touts selling sunglasses and could more easily participate in local life. We enjoyed some of the best Vietnamese food so far in our visit – a delicious pork bahn bao, pho, rice pancakes, and deep-fried sesame buns. We spent our time in Dalat with a local guide who took us up to the top of Liang Bian Mountain, named after a Vietnamese Romeo and Juliet story. He proudly showed off his village from the top where we enjoyed 360 degree views. The tough climb was well worth it.
Vietnam (well, all of Southeast Asia) has somewhat of a reputation for trying to take money at every opportunity, so it’s become a habit to say no to everything. For example, in one night drinking a beer over the space of 2 hours, we had about 20 vendors try to peddle their fake Ray Bans or cigarettes on us. It was always no, until someone offered to fix and polish my broken and dirty Birkenstocks while I sat in a Saigon park for one dollar – I definitely can’t complain about that (until he tried to charge me double after he was done. Don’t think so, buddy!)