Vietnam on Two Wheels — A Rough Start

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by johnnyvagabond, Jun 16, 2010.

  1. johnnyvagabond

    johnnyvagabond Adventurer

    Joined:
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    currently in Vietnam
    [​IMG]

    I had considered just buying a motorcycle in Saigon. Many people do it this way, buying a beater for $300 or $400, riding it north and selling it cheap. I didn’t want to be stuck waiting to sell the bike in Hanoi and was worried about having mechanical problems, so I decided to rent a bike for a month and ship it back to Saigon.

    “Where are planning on going first?” the owner, Pat, asked. I said I’d been thinking of heading to Mui Ne, a beach town that was a 4 hour bus ride from Saigon. “Can’t do it — you’ll never make it before dark.” The cardinal rule of riding in the developing world is, of course, ‘never, ever ride after dark’.

    I ask if there’s anyplace worth stopping at midway. “Not really,” is the reply. Great.

    “Wait, I take that back. Vung Tao is a nice beach town that you can reach in time. They’ve got hotels, bars, and restaurants. It’s about three hours away.” He pulls out the photocopied road map and sketches out the route. “You’ll have go through Saigon to the ferry. After the ferry, the road splits — take a left, then all rights and it’ll lead you straight to Vung Tao. Can’t miss it.”

    Can’t miss it? I think. If it can be missed, I’ll find a way.

    As he’s saying this, he draws a wavy line from Saigon to the town of Phu My, about two-thirds of the way to Vung Tao. I can’t help but notice that there’s no road on the map where he’s marked the route. “Umm… I don’t see a road here, Pat.”

    “Yeah, it’s a newer road — not on the map yet. This map sucks, but it’s the best available. The ferry is nearly impossible to find, so I’ll call you a moto taxi — he’ll lead you to the ferry for 100,000 dong. Once you get past the ferry, it’s easy.”

    I pack up the bike –a small, Taiwanese 125cc KTM– and strap my huge backpack to the back, sideways. It looks ridiculous. I step back and look at it skeptically, then raise an eyebrow in Pat’s direction. He eyes it for a moment, then shrugs and says “I’ve seen worse.” Good enough for me.

    It’s now two o’clock (the shop opened at noon) and I’m worried about time, so I don’t bother looking up Vung Tao in the guidebook. I choose a helmet from a large stack, throw my day pack on my shoulders and saddle up. The moto rider is a sweet old guy and he leads me out through twisting, tiny streets, and checking over his shoulder from time to time to see if I’m still there. We stop for gas and then make our way south, through the heart of Saigon.

    I’m glad he’s here — it’s all I can do to keep up with him and dodge the thousands of cars, trucks, and motorbikes on the roads and sidewalks. Saigon is full of chaotic roundabouts, where people drive in any and all directions. It’s all I can do to avoid crashing into someone — navigation would be impossible.

    After about forty minutes, we cross a bridge and turn onto a long four-lane road. The driver pulls to the side of the road and waves me over. He points ahead. “You go straight.”

    “But what about the ferry?” I ask. “Pat said you’d take me to the ferry.” He looks confused. “Ferry?”

    I pull out the map and he stares at it for at least ten minutes, tracing it with his finger. Traffic is roaring by as we stand, sweating, by the side of the road. Finally, he says “You here,” stabbing at a blurry spot on the map. “Go straight.”

    After more debate, it’s apparent that this is all the help I’m getting, so I pay him and head out. Maybe he took a different route and we don’t need the ferry — we did pass a bridge, after all. Fifteen minutes up the road, I find the ferry. For 3,000 dong, it takes me across a wide river, choked with container ships and tugboats. I’m deposited onto a red, muddy street on the opposite shore.

    The traffic is a lot lighter here and things are starting to look up. About five kilometers on, I find the junction and take a left while dodging potholes and mud puddles. A little further on i find a right and take it, convinced that going straight will take me back the way I came. The road looks fairly new and there are fruit trees lining both sides of the road. Pat had mentioned that the ride went through plantations, so I’m pretty sure I’m on the right road.

    For the first time, I’m able to relax a bit and enjoy the view and find myself grinning like a jackass. Vietnam on a bike. I’ve got this.

    Before I can fully complete the thought, the bike –which was loud to begin with– suddenly gets really loud. Something is definitely not right.
    I pull to the side of the road and discover that one of the two bolts holding the exhaust header to the engine has vibrated out. This can’t be good.

    I call Pat (I had thankfully bought a Vietnamese SIM for my phone just that morning) and explain the situation. “Just limp it to any Honda shop — they’ll be able to replace the bolt. If there are any questions, call me and I’ll translate.”

    After five minutes of very loud riding –with people turning to stare as I ride past– I find a small hut with a Honda sign. The young mechanic fiddles with it for a half hour, finally replacing the bolt, but it’s just as loud as before. He shakes his head and shows me a small washer, pointing at the header. The exhaust donut is missing — it must have fallen out somehow or disintegrated.

    He doesn’t have the part and refuses to take any money for his troubles. I thank him and hop back on the road, nervously making my way to the next town. There I find a bigger shop and two men set to work on it after letting it cool for fifteen minutes. They remove the entire exhaust, replace the gasket, and bolt it all back together. It sounds divine.

    As he’s testing it, twisting the throttle, he grimaces and begins digging under the tank with some pliers and a screwdriver, adjusting the carburetor. I’m not thrilled with the idea of him tweaking it, but I don’t want to be rude and they’ve both proved themselves to be competent. The bike does sound better when he’s finished, so I can’t complain. He charges me 20,000 dong ($1 US) and helps me find my location on the map.

    I’ve managed to miss the invisible road –imagine that– but I’m near a major highway that will take me all the way to Vung Tao. All I have to do is turn right about three kilometers ahead. My only worry now is that I’ve lost another hour repairing the bike and have maybe two hours of light left. Rain clouds are building in the distance. None of the towns between here and there seem large enough to have much in the way of hotels or services.

    The turn is where I expect and I find myself on a four lane highway with very heavy traffic. The carburetor adjustment has, indeed, given me a little more power but it’s now running rich and produces a low, burbling backfire every time I let off the gas. It sounds like another Honda visit is in store.

    I finally spot a road sign that says “Vung Tao, 52 kilometers” and let out a whoop. For the first time today, I know where I am, where I’m going, and how far I have to go. I’ve got this, I think. Again.

    I’m making good time and have started to get the rhythm of the traffic. There’s a large intersection about every kilometer, with no traffic lights or stop signs — they’re basically huge free-for-alls, with the biggest vehicle having the right of way. I try to shadow big trucks through and it seems to work well.

    As I pass through one about ten minutes later, I find an accident with a scooter on its side and a shirtless Vietnamese man lying sprawled on the tarmac. His legs are crossed in a figure-four, with his arms out, palms up. His eyes are closed. There’s no blood that I can see, so hopefully he’s just unconscious. All I can do is wish him well and continue on, albeit a little more slowly.

    I reach Vung Tao about fifteen minutes before sunset and make my way to the center of town in rush hour traffic. The bike is sounding very loud again. Deciding to check the guidebook for cheap hotels, I turn onto a side street and pull up on the sidewalk. I swing the kickstand down and hear a loud, metallic clank. I look down to see the kickstand and its spring lying on the ground — the bolt has vibrated out. You gotta be shitting me.

    I have to lean the bike against a lamp post, and then get off to pick up the parts. Checking the exhaust, I find that the bolt is loose again. The guidebook shows that the cheaper motels are clustered along the beach to the east, about ten minutes away, so I make my way there and spot a hotel name from the guidebook. After pulling the bike into the hotel, the receptionist holds it steady while I tie the kickstand back on with a spare shoestring. She thinks this is hilarious.

    They claim that all of the cheap rooms are taken — all that’s left is a 350,000 dong ($18 US) hi-class room. I’m sweaty, tired, and frustrated — all I want is three things: a shower, clean clothes, and a cold beer. It’s now dark out so I agree to take the room, carrying all of my gear up at least twenty flights of stairs to the fourth floor. The room is a huge double with AC, wifi, and a balcony that affords a beautiful, 180 degree view of the beach front. $18 buys you a lot in Vietnam.

    After a quick shower and change of clothes, I find an open-air noodle shop where I order chicken with rice and a beer. I must be the only white guy they’ve ever seen and everyone turns to stare and point with a smile, but soon drift back to the World Cup game on television. The beer arrives and it’s lukewarm at best.

    Oh well, I think. Two out of three ain’t bad.

    .

    #1
  2. YnotJP?

    YnotJP? Long timer

    Joined:
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    Philippines and Seattle
    "Can't miss it". Always translates to "kiss of death".

    I know I'm going to enjoy this one.
    #2
  3. Indochine

    Indochine 'Bikes are OK, but . . .

    Joined:
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    Bangkok
    Motorcycle traffic in Saigon is ghastly! I've never seen so many accidents in one locale. The afflicted parties look at each other, bow a touch, smile and, if they still have both legs and arms, go on their merry way. Then there's the young yahoos, blowing red lights and crossing traffic, defying death at every corner.

    Bu-u-u-u-t nothing beats seeing those beautiful young ladies with the straight backs, bouncing pony tails, arm "socks" to prevent frightful tans, and tight jeans motoring along the streets by the hundreds.

    Anyway, sorry, just travelling back in time . . . great good luck on your Viet tour. I'm signed up :D

    BTW, you can post pix anytime!
    #3
  4. johnnyvagabond

    johnnyvagabond Adventurer

    Joined:
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    currently in Vietnam
    More pics, I promise. I was too busy hanging on for dear life this time -- it was a bit of a grudge ride...
    #4
  5. GB

    GB . Administrator

    Joined:
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    Sounds like an adventure alright! Thanks for the detailed report.. enjoyed reading it :thumb Pics would be appreciated.
    #5
  6. johnnyvagabond

    johnnyvagabond Adventurer

    Joined:
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    currently in Vietnam
    Thanks, Gadget. Back on the road today, so more pics on the way...
    #6
  7. jadedillusion

    jadedillusion Adventure Wife

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    Arizona
    :lurk

    *sits back and waits for more with pics..*
    #7
  8. TEXASYETI

    TEXASYETI Call me "thread killer!"

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    Fort Worth, Texas
    :lurk great start!
    #8
  9. UpST8

    UpST8 turnin gas to noise

    Joined:
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    californication
    Looking foward to this adventure!! :*sip*

    We are trying to get to Southeast Asia ourselves for riding and exploring :D
    #9
  10. SprintST

    SprintST Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2007
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    Ottawa Ontario mailing address
    I've ridden in Saigon and Hanoi and you are in for a real treat on this adventure. Riding that goes beyond words and has to be experienced first hand. As a line in some old song goes " ... I seen things there ain't never seen before".

    Have a blast, be careful, watch out for chickens in the road, and let's see some pics. I'm signed up.
    #10
  11. johnnyvagabond

    johnnyvagabond Adventurer

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    Oh, man... you're scaring me, Sprint. Just completed my first full day -- 8 hours covering a whopping 200k. Definitely a learning experience. The hardest part, so far, is never quite knowing where you are. I did a lot of backtracking...

    But, I made it to Mui Ne before the rain hit, so I'm pretty happy.
    #11
  12. johnnyvagabond

    johnnyvagabond Adventurer

    Joined:
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    currently in Vietnam
    I’m up at dawn, packed and on the road by 6:30. I’m leaving charming Vung Tao and heading up the coast to the beach town of Mui Ne, about 200 kilometers away. After the mechanical problems of the day before, I’m a bit nervous about my odds of success.

    Navigation should be easy for this leg, I think, since I’m following the coast. How hard can it be to keep the ocean on my right? It turns out to be trickier than it sounds. As I head out of town, I stop to gas up. I ask the attendant for directions to the first town, Long Hai, and he pantomimes that I should go straight to the roundabout ahead, then take a right.

    It’s a cloudy morning and I’m heading right into the heaviest cloud cover, hoping I don’t get caught by rain. The ride to Long Hai is lovely, with almost-florescent green rice fields and run-down buildings decorating the landscape. There seem to be an unusually large number of cemeteries. The bike is running well enough –I’d checked the bolts on the exhaust before leaving– but I’m constantly listening for the slightest change in engine sound.


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    I stop in what I think is Long Hai, a tiny tourist town with a small beach, and buy a soda and water. A local man looks at my map and verifies that I am indeed where I think I am. Forty-five minutes into the ride and I’m not lost yet. Life is good.

    There’s about twelve kilometers of riding by the sea before the road turns inland. For the first time, I’m finding mile markers on the side of the road and it helps ease some of the “am I still on track?” questions. Half of the signs mention towns that aren’t even on the map, so I’m still confused much of the time.

    After only sixty kilometers of riding, the engine starts to roar and clatter again and I immediately pull over, thinking I’ll have to tighten the bolt. I’m too late — the bolt is gone again. Coasting into what I think is a repair shop, I hop off, then realize that it’s just a general store selling inner tubes and assorted household wares. I go to climb back on the bike, but the owner insists on looking at the problem.

    He and his partner try threading in a new bolt, but can’t get it started, so they pull the top of the exhaust off to get a better look. I hear the Vietnamese equivalent of “uh, oh”, and look down to see a large crack in the bolt hole. No wonder the bolt kept falling out.


    [​IMG]

    I immediately envision packing the bike up and shipping it home early, and ask them to just button everything up so I can limp it to the next town. The owner shakes his head no and motions for me to wait, as his partner rides off on a scooter. He returns with a helicoil kit and sets to tapping the bolt hole.

    While they work on the bike, the grandmother of the household brings out two small boys to say hello to the foreigner. They’re both around three or four years old and are more than a little terrified of me. I finally get smiles out of them but it takes a lot of clowning around on my part.

    Within thirty minutes or so, they’ve got the helicoil insert installed and a new bolt in place. The engine sounds great. I try to pay for their help but the owner refuses to take any money. I nearly shake his hand off thanking him, then climb back on.

    Up the road, I pass through a small town and I’m nearly bowled over by the stench. It reeks of rotten fish and the smell just gets stronger as I roll along. My eyes are starting to water when I realize that I’m following behind a motorbike with at least a hundred pounds of raw squid packed into baskets. After I pass him, I take a deep breath and all is well.

    I’ve been lucky so far with navigation — every town of any size has a roundabout as you enter and I just take the turn that leads to towards the coast. At La Gi, however, this leads me into the heart of the town, into a maze of twisting roads packed with traffic and early morning business. I’m lost within minutes.

    It takes me a good half hour to find my way back to the roundabout and ask for directions. I have to make a connection in the nearby town of Ham Tan and if I get the wrong road, I’ll end up on a big highway that runs inland instead of along the coast. The road turns away from the coast and all of the signs refer to the nearby town of Ke Ga, which isn’t on the map at all, so I spend the next half hour worrying that I’m headed in the wrong direction.

    But the road turns eventually and the coast finally appears. I spot a light house that is marked on the map and realize that I’m still on course and am well over halfway to Mui Ne. Spotting a roadside cafe, I stop to rest my butt and have a drink. It’s a small, open-air spot in the middle of nowhere with just a few plastic tables. The owner, Nyugen, runs it with his wife and his sassy teenage daughter.


    [​IMG]

    They’re enthralled by the map and the guidebook and I spend a pleasant hour sitting there, trying to carry on a conversation without a common language. Nyugen shows me his home town of Haiphong on the map, in the north near Halong Bay, then insists that I take his cell number. I tell him I’ll call him from Haiphong — it’ll be a very awkward conversation since we can’t understand each other. Regardless, I’m charmed by the thought.

    His wife borrows my sunscreen and jokingly tries to pocket it. Like many women in Asia, she’s concerned about getting too dark. In the west, a tan is a sign of health and hints at a wealth of leisure time. Here, it implies that you work in the fields, so women will go to great lengths to avoid the sun. I had a Thai friend explain that there is a lot of discrimination — if two women apply for a job, the lighter-skinned one will usually get the gig.

    They try to convince me to stay the night in a nearby hotel so I can watch the World Cup with them, but I insist on leaving. Rain clouds are building on the horizon and I’d like to arrive in Mui Ne before they do. It’s pretty much a straight shot from here and the miles fly by. I’m surrounded by sand dunes and wispy trees, with occasional views of pounding surf.

    I’d been concerned about getting lost in Phan Thiet, the largest city on the route, but I find convenient signs directing me to Mui Ne and pass through without a hitch. A few kilometers onward, I come across a fancy brew haus and stop for lunch and a beer. They brew a dark bock beer that’s pretty tasty and is a nice change from the standard Asian beers. I try the smoked pork and it’s tasty but greasy.


    [​IMG]

    Moving on, I think I have another ten kilometers to go, but start recognizing hotel and restaurant names from the guidebook — I’m in Mui Ne already. The clouds are darkening and closing in, so I take the first hotel I can afford and end up with a lovely bungalow twenty feet from the beach for $10 a night. There’s just enough time to unpack the bike and walk to the beachfront bar when the rain starts.

    As I drink a beer and check my email, I realize that it’s taken me 8 hours to go less than 200 kilometers. Vietnam is suddenly looking like a very big place.
    #12
  13. Indochine

    Indochine 'Bikes are OK, but . . .

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2007
    Oddometer:
    356
    Location:
    Bangkok
    Well, I do hope you've heard the last complaint from your cranky engine. Maybe your instant mechanics have cured the problem. :D

    I'll be curious to hear, as you travel, how the pricing is. I've been hearing over the last couple of years that VN is getting overheated and getting very expensive, thanks to all the investment money pouring in. But $10 for a nice room at Mu Ne sounds very reasonable.

    All the best!
    #13
  14. Misery Goat

    Misery Goat Positating the negative Super Moderator

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    That's weird, I rode all over HMC and don't recall seeing any accidents. Considering there are over 9M registered bikes in the city it has excellent traffic imo.

    Where is the OP heading? I have family in Vinh Long if you're heading that way. They have the best Pate in the Mekong Delta. :D
    #14
  15. markjenn

    markjenn Long timer

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    Bellingham, WA
    Good trip, great report. I'm curious how you're getting internet access.

    - Mark
    #15
  16. johnnyvagabond

    johnnyvagabond Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Oddometer:
    39
    Location:
    currently in Vietnam
    Internet access here has been easier than in Thailand or Cambodia. Vietnam seems well-wired and most restaurants and hotels have free, unlocked wifi. Pretty decent speeds, too.

    As for costs, once I got out of Saigon things became pretty cheap. A nice fan-cooled bungalow on the beach here in Mui Ne is $10. You can find something as low as $5 a night if you don't need a view. Beer is .50 - $1.00 and most dinner plates run about $2-3. Gas is about 75 cents a liter (?). Pretty easy to stay under $20 a day (not counting the bike).

    As for destinations, I'm heading to Dalat next, then making my way north to Sapa and Hanoi...
    #16
  17. Fatguts McCantRide

    Fatguts McCantRide On a diet and learning

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    Shitney
    Absolutely in for this one mate! Will be doing an SE Asia trip in about 18 months time so in the meantime I'll live vicariously through you. Have fun.
    #17
  18. johnnybravo

    johnnybravo n00b

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2007
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    6
    Location:
    So Cal, as far out of LA as I could get...
    Johnny, you came along at a perfect time. I will be working in Vietnam in a few months and would like to spend some time riding the coast. Your insight will be much appreciated....
    thanks for the info - more pics!
    JB
    #18
  19. johnnyvagabond

    johnnyvagabond Adventurer

    Joined:
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    currently in Vietnam
    [​IMG]

    <abbr class="published" title="2010-06-23"></abbr>As usual, I didn’t really think things through fully. I’d plotted a course from Mui Ne to Dalat on Google Maps and had been given two options. One was more direct, heading straight inland, while the longer option followed the coast for almost half of the journey. I, of course, chose the scenic route.

    Emailing the link to my iPhone 3G (the model without GPS), I packed up my gear and paid my hotel bill in preparation for an early start the following morning. Once on the road, I discovered that while the route did follow the coast, it wasn’t on the coast — I was blessed with only two brief glimpses of the ocean, but had added at least 50km to my ride.


    [​IMG]

    To make matters worse, the coastal route involved several connections between small towns that never seemed to match up with my map. Losing time on several wrong turns and dead-ends, I began to worry about making it to Dalat before dark, despite starting at 6:30.

    Stopping at another intersection in the middle of nowhere, I pulled out my phone to check the route. The link pulled up the Maps app and there was my route, highlighted in purple. To my surprise, after a few seconds a blue dot appeared, marking my position. I was floored — I couldn’t believe the positioning function worked out here in the boonies. This changes everything.

    Town names on Google maps rarely matched the old map I carried and fewer still matched the occasional road signs, but being able to see my current location in relation to the road nearly brought tears to my eyes.

    I could now tell that the turn to the right would take me to Phan Ri Cua, my next waypoint, but that it would be over 20k of dirt road. Normally, the response to this discovery would be “hell yeah!” but I’d had so many problems with parts falling off the bike that I decided to take the safer route.


    [​IMG]

    It proved to be a wise choice — twenty minutes later, the exhaust bolt vibrated out. Again. I coasted into a repair shop and three guys set to work on the bike while looking it over and kicking the tires. The bolt I’d tapped last time was still holding, but the other had decided to make a break for freedom. I’d checked both just before leaving.

    They replaced the bolt easily enough, charged me a dollar for the trouble, and continued inspecting the bike while I packed up. As I leaned over to pick something up, my shirt rode up –exposing my stomach– and one of the mechanics exclaimed something like “Holy shit, look how white that guy is!” in Vietnamese. They all goggled at me and a we had a good laugh. He kept lifting my shirt to stare as I adjusted my backpack. Dude, take a photo already…

    Soon, I was on Highway 1 and stopped for a quick drink at a roadside cafe, exchanging smiles with the three women who ran the place. Like most places, they had these half-sized red plastic chairs that sit about a foot off the ground and make you feel like you should be drinking imaginary tea with your six-year old niece. I squeezed into the chair, looked over the map, and did some simple math. It’d taken 3 hours to ride 50k — I had 190 more to go. Not good.

    As I went to stand up, the chair caught on the pockets of my cargo pants and came with me. The ladies started laughing, so I hammed it up and turned in a circle a few times, making faces and looking over my shoulder at the toy chair stuck to my ass. This got them roaring with laughter — the oldest had tears in her eyes. I gave her a wink as I saddled up and rode off.

    The highway had a lot of truck traffic but was in good shape and I could finally make some decent time, holding the bike steady at about 60kph. Oncoming trucks spent so much time in my lane that I finally just stayed on the shoulder, dodging the occasional slower scooter. I passed through small towns about every 5 kilometers, where I’d slow down to weave my way through pedestrians, carts, and trucks.

    Within an hour, I was approaching my connection near Phan Rang Thap Cham, where I would turn west and head into the mountains. It was here that the iPhone really saved the day.

    The turnoff turned out to be unsigned, hidden in the middle of a small town. By stopping and checking Maps, I found it easily — had I missed it, I would have ridden into the heart of a good-sized city and lost at least an hour finding my way out again.

    The road here was in good shape and I continued to eat up the miles. Rice fields blanketed both sides of the road, so eye-poppingly green that they looked like God had tweaked the colors in Photoshop. I got in the habit of stopping every 20k to check the bolt and give it a quarter turn. This allowed me to finally quit worrying so much about it and I was able to relax and really enjoy the ride for the first time. I’d come over 100 kilometers now and it was 11am — I could make Dalat before dark.

    I turned onto Highway 28 and saw a sign that said “Dalat, 94k”. It was only noon and I only had one more turn to make, about 70k up the road. Awesome. Stopping for water, I spoke with a man who told me Dalat was only 2 hours ride from here. It sounded too good to be true (and was). The map showed some serious twisties as I got into the mountains and I was excited to ride them.


    [​IMG]

    The ride from this point on was beautifully scenic. There were fewer towns and more fields of rice and leafy, green vegetables. Old cemeteries rested outside of small villages, their crypts pointed west. The temperature and humidity dropped slowly and for the first time in three months, I wasn’t sweating. The road was under construction, covered in loose, crushed rock and filled with potholes, so my speed dropped considerably. I didn’t care — I was having a blast.

    I reached the twisties and they weren’t nearly as fun as I’d hoped. The entire road was being repaired and was a torn-up, bumpy mess. I’ve ridden bikes for over twenty years, but always street bikes — navigating the mud holes and dirt piles was a challenge. Giant dump trucks roared up and down the mountain, forcing me to pull over at narrow spots. The drivers would smile and salute as they rolled by.


    [​IMG]

    From time to time, I’d find a spot where the trees thinned and would get a glimpse of the plain below — I’d climbed at least 2,000 feet. At the top of the pass, I found a spot filled with women selling snacks under umbrellas and stopped to rest my butt, have a drink, and check the bolts.

    It was now 2pm and I asked a vendor how long it would take to reach Dalat. She held up four fingers. A construction worker walked by and was checking out the bike. I asked him and he held up three fingers. We’ll call it three and a half.

    If the rest of the road was like this, it could easily take four hours and now I was nervous again. A half hour later, I pulled into an incredibly charming mountain town. It was so lovely and quaint, I considered stopping and finding a hotel for the night. I stopped for gas and it started to rain, but I continued on. The road went from bad to worse, with alternating patches of tortured asphalt, dusty crushed rock, and raw dirt. The rain stopped and I was soon coated head-to-toe in gray dust.

    My last turn was coming up soon, according to Google Maps, and I watched for it, while dodging craters and spitting out mouthfuls of dust kicked up by passing trucks. It was like riding through an artillery field and at one point I’m pretty sure I passed the spot where they faked the moon landing.


    [​IMG]

    Stopping at a church, I checked the iPhone and sure enough, I had missed my turn somehow. So, I had to ride back 5k through the ugliest stretch, stopping every few minutes to check my location. After twenty minutes of this, I finally came to the conclusion that –unless it was cleverly disguised as a driveway or a cow path– there was no road. Google Maps had failed me.

    Three road surveyors confirmed this for me and pointed me back towards the church. My turn was a further 20k up the road, a right turn onto a straight shot into Dalat. Riding through this urban offroad extravaganza for the third time, my enthusiasm finally waned. Are we there yet?

    After awhile, the road improved to just bumpy, pot-holed pavement and I was able to increase my speed. I had about three hours of light left, but no idea how far I had to go and what the conditions were like.

    The turn led me onto a newly-paved road and produced a sign that said “Dalat 20km”. The road from that point on was flawless and fun — full of sweeping turns through thick forests of pine trees. Thirty minutes later, I was in Dalat.

    I stopped at a very fancy restaurant to have a beer and figure out where the hotels were. I’d been on the road for over 10 hours, was covered in dust, and my ass felt like I’d just finished pledge week at an S&M fraternity. I was a wreck.

    The waiter’s eyes went wide as I stumbled to the restaurant.

    “Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll sit outside.”

    .
    #19
  20. Indochine

    Indochine 'Bikes are OK, but . . .

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2007
    Oddometer:
    356
    Location:
    Bangkok
    OK, JV that was a wonderful post. :clap

    I have never been to Dalat and would like to see some pix if you're going to spend a bit of time there, please. And, to keep you busy, got any pix of the bumpty-wump road you were just on?

    Must make sure that I'm up to speed on iPhone GPS when I get to SEA this autumn and was even thinking of getting a real portable GPS. Have never used either but I think I'd better learn, based on your experience.
    #20