After settling in Nha Trang for a few days, we were ready to celebrate Tet: the most important and celebrated festival in Vietnam. You could feel the excitement building among the locals, and the streets were becoming more colourful with all the flower decorations. Looking forward to seeing the fireworks and getting a good spot for the celebrations, we had a few walks up and down the beachfront to figure out where we should head for. The night came and we were all ready to have a late night. 10pm came and we couldn’t work out where the celebrations were or when they started. It all seemed a bit too quiet. Maybe the party kicks off at midnight with all the fireworks? Midnight came and went with no fireworks …the celebrations were the previous night! Bollocks, our one night of partying missed! Still, at least we could watch what the fireworks were like on YouTube, and we had treated ourselves to a mud bath at Thap Ba Hot Springs earlier that day – maybe there was part of us that was missing Cambodia, we certainly looked like we were back there!
Nha Trang to Dai Lanh
Back on the bikes and hoping that the wind had eased for us as we had 90km to ride to the small fishing town of Dai Lanh. At least for the cycling we were in luck; the wind had dropped and we were cruising effortlessly at 20-25kph again along the highway. The highway was also quiet today and the ride finished sweeping round a mountain pass and affording us views of the fishing village where we were headed.
Dai Lanh to Tuy Hoa
Waking up to the sound of waves crashing on the beach is an amazing way to wake up, then to be greeted with the sun rising quickly above the sea on the horizon adds to a good way to start a days cycling.
A local Banh Mi for breakfast and we set off along another stunning coastal mountain pass. We turned off the highway to follow the coast, and to add a few extra miles to our ride.
We’re pretty sure it’s not possible to get bored of cycling round a coastline of raw jagged rocks with a turquoise sea as a backdrop. These are the days where we definitely don’t miss the commute to sit at a desk all day. Especially when the commute is through Milton Keynes.
Just as we were enjoying the downhill after the final push up, a herd of cows decided they also didn’t like the other cars on the road and bolted, catching us up and surrounding us in the midst of their panic – still better than being surrounded by those manic drivers in Milton Keynes though!
Tuy Hoa to Song Cau
Cycling everyday through foreign countries with food more on the peculiar side of things, it’s easy to feel a little say rough on some days. Today it was Lindsay not feeling 100%.
Luckily the day was a short one, even if we weren’t sure if there would be guesthouses in the town we cycled towards. We were in luck – a hotel complete with balcony and sea view!
Song Cau to Quy Nhon
Bus drivers don’t seem too concerned with taking it easy and enjoying the beautiful surroundings. They seem to care even less about other people as they overtake on blind corners not really giving a fuck about what maybe coming the other way. Vietnamese bus drivers aren’t my favourite people. In fact, they may be some of my least favourite people. At least we could relax in the afternoon at one of Quy Nhon’s quaint little coffee shops along the beachfront.
Quy Nhon to An Khe
Our first day headed towards the mountainous Ho Chi Minh Highway. We had no idea whether there would be guesthouses in An Khe, but we headed there anyway! We looked forward to a slightly longer day today as the past couple of weeks it seemed we have had lots of short days due to the ferocious wind that was determined to push us backwards. The road started off nice and flat with only the manic drivers to put up with, being forced off the road at one point because the drivers can’t use their brakes; I suspect because they find it hard to reach the pedals.
Expecting a short climb just before the town of An Khe, we stopped for a quick cà phê đá. Then the climb began.
It wasn’t short.
The road snaked up the mountain with no end in sight. Looking to the distance we could only laugh as we saw the road go further and further up the mountainside. Not knowing how long or steep the climb would be, we were determined to plough on and not stop until we reached the top. The heat was becoming more fierce, but we seemed to be cheered on by the locals driving past almost in disbelief at what we were doing. At one point it felt like our very own Tour De France mountain stage as locals at the side of the road waved and took pictures! After about an hour of climbing, we reached the top where a fresh coconut was our reward.
This was our introduction to the mountains…
An Khe to Pleiku
It was a steady start to the day and as we got to the top of our first hill, we looked back at the sun rising. Soon we were greeted by a proper hill though. It wasn’t quite as long as yesterday, but it certainly felt steeper in some parts. Our legs were starting to feel the climbs, and we had more to come. We stopped off in the shade in the middle of the cool pine forests for our morning coffee before the relentless cycle of uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill… all the way to Pleiku.
Pleiku to Kon Tum
This morning the legs felt tired and heavy from the climbing over the past 2 days, but luckily it felt mostly downhill today. Which probably means there will be a big climb coming up later! To add to my body feeling in peak physical shape, my throat was starting to feel incredibly sore – most likely from all the fumes of the horrible lorries, and even more horrible buses with their horrible drivers!
Kon Tum province is full of tiny, almost ancient villages dotted with very unique houses.
Kon Tum to Plei Can
This morning we woke up right in the mountains. It was bloody freezing outside. Only 2 days ago we were sweating and overheating. Today we’re donning the down jackets!
Bus drivers are knobheads. While happily cycling along, bus drivers just want to make sure you’re awake by creeping up behind you, and as they get as close as they can to you, they then sound their horns just to give the heart a bit of an extra kick, to make sure, if you weren’t aware already, that there is a huge polluting bus next to you. Then they carry on performing the same thing to every other person on the road. And if you’re not aware already – bus drivers are knobheads. The traffic and the fumes are certainly getting tiresome, especially as we were hoping that the mountains may offer some sort of respite from the traffic of the main highway 1 that runs up the coast. The only thing to do, apart from swearing at them and mimicking the noise as loud as you can at the same time (may also add to a sore throat), is to enjoy yet more amazing mountain backdrops.
Plei Can to Dak Glei
The weather was starting to turn from baking hot during the day, to very cold at night. The changes in temperature – along with the toxic exhaust fumes emitting out from every poorly maintained vehicle on the road, which is every vehicle on the road – were making our throats sore and tolerance for other vehicles diminish. Today though was to be the day when the route got quieter and we could finally appreciate the road to ourselves, and look around in amazement at the mountains all around us with nothing but the sound of the wind rushing past us.
The beauty of these roads and mountains even lure the locals for long distance motorbike tours, just like the tourists.
Dak Glei to Kham Duc
Just in time for the really hilly days when I will really need my lungs, my cold was getting worse. Still being fairly cold outside, we didn’t even take our jumpers off today, even cycling up all the climbs. Steadily we climbed higher and higher, into the clouds. The cold and fresh feel to the clean mountain air felt amazing, and the quiet roads with no pollution and most importantly, no buses, could only make us smile.
The road snaked up through the jungles and all you could hear were the odd calls from the tropical animals lurking somewhere out of sight. Arriving in the sleepy town of Kham Duc, it was a typically laid-back mountain town with a peaceful atmosphere.
Kham Duc to Than My
Another day through the jungle covered mountains, we cycled in almost silence just enjoying the peace and quiet and nothing but noises from the jungle.
This was bliss as we cruised up, through and over this incredible terrain. We enjoyed our morning coffee stop with a group of local teachers on their break, and one seeming to take an interest in me when she asked Lindsay if I was her ‘boy’!
Than My to Da Nang
Our final climb out of the mountains back towards the coast started the day off, and as we got to the other side we were met with flat boring terrain, and lots of noisy traffic. Then when we got to highway 1 to finish our ride into Da Nang, it started to rain. The fun of the mountains was over for now.
Da Nang to Hue
Waking up with a sense of excitement, we were now on our way to Hue. A best friend from the UK has been living in Vietnam for almost 3 years and we were now on our way to where he lives.
The Vietnamese love a bit of morning exercise, and along the sea front as we settled into our own morning routine, the locals were settling into theirs – arms waving and swinging in all directions, and hips gyrating in ways that old people should not be gyrating.
Soon we were on our way up the famed Hai Van pass, made famous by Top Gear and now a route for many tourists on motorbikes and scooters. We didn’t see many people cycling up it though…
The pass was a lot easier than expected, and at the top we had to don the jumpers as we passed into the colder North of Vietnam. Zooming down the other side of the pass was spectacular; coasting down through the cloud, and leaning in from switchback to switchback – it was over all too soon. It was then flat all the way to Hue, with only a couple of tunnels that we had to pedal as fast as we could through as there were signs stating NO BICYCLES! Whoops.
As we spun into the Backpackers Hostel we were greeted with a couple of free cold beers for our efforts.
Our friend, Mr Bob, had booked us onto a cooking class at InnSideOut with Phuong, the hostel owner’s wife. She first took us around the local market explaining all the local delicacies and eccentricities, and explaining that it is odd for a man to be present in the market – probably one reason why I get a lot of strange looks!
We were then taken to the kitchen; a beautiful, quiet and secluded property on the riverbank, where we cooked and ate the best food we have had in all of Vietnam so far, and it was masterly prepared by us! And Mr Bob arrived just in time to finish it off and enjoy a few beers.
The next day we toured the town of Hue on scooters in a group tour from the hostel. It didn’t take long before we broke off from the main group and were taking the scooters where scooters probably weren’t designed for: into the forests with views overlooking Hue!
Posted by Will