By this point in the trip we had only been on the bikes a little more than a week and traveled about 200 miles. That may not seem like much, but when you’re on a 110cc motorbike, averaging about 40mph, and riding off and on in the pouring rain, it feels like you’ve driven across the world. We still had a long way to go though, with about 2,000 more miles ahead of us. Our first truly long journey was our next, going from the beautiful beach town of Mui Ne to the sleepy mountain town (or so I thought) of Da Lat, approximately 120 miles away.
Da Lat is roughly 5,000 ft above sea level, so you can imagine the type of ride this journey would be. Constant elevation, roads that zigzag up and between mountains, and drop-offs that will make an acrophobic fear for their life. Needless to say this ride isn’t for the faint of heart. While this all may sound scary and dangerous, if you’re cautious and not riding like an idiot it is totally fine, and so far has been one of the best rides of the trip, next to doing it all over again and going back down the mountains.
As I mentioned in the Part 2 of this series, we had met some friends during our travels also motorbiking their way across Vietnam. Like us, they were doing the south to north route, so we decided to ride as a big group up the mountains. Dingo and Konner from Vung Tau would be coming, along with Ryan and Hayden, two guys from British Colombia we met in Mui Ne at the Backpacker Village.
The morning we were to leave for Da Lat, Breada had a mild panic attack when she started to realize just how up and open we would be on our ride. She doesn’t like open spaces, and if you saw this route, filled with twisty turns and no guard rails, you would probably be nervous too. At the last-minute she decided to book a bus ticket for herself and her bike and meet us in Da Lat. In the end, this was probably the smarter move because she would have been freaking out the entire time, though the busses are pretty scary themselves.
Riding in a group is so much better than riding alone. It’s hard to describe why, since you can’t make conversation or anything while riding, but I guess its more of a sense of camaraderie than anything. None of our bikes are particularly comfortable, so we stop a lot, take in the view, shoot the shit, and continue on. I love Breada more than anything, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy having a guys road trip.
As I mentioned earlier, at this point in the journey this was the best ride I had done. The coastal ride from Vung Tau to Phan Thiet/Mui Ne was nice, but it couldn’t compare with the raw beauty of the mountain ranges surrounding the roads leading to Da Lat. Vietnam doesn’t get enough credit for it’s natural beauty and the wide variety of landscapes throughout the country. In the same day I drove past the ocean, sand dunes that looked like they came out of a desert, and ended my day 5,000 feet above sea level in the mountains, where for the first time in almost 3 months I could have used a sweatshirt. I’ve said it before in a previous post, but Americans as a whole don’t travel to this side of the world very often, and when they do it’s often Thailand. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Thailand and we plan on returning in a couple of months, but I think Vietnam has surpassed it in almost every category.
When Breada and I first decided we were going to motorbike through Vietnam, we considered, even if just for a short time, about sharing a bike. Honestly, I’m so happy we shot that idea down because I don’t think we would have made it up the mountains to Da Lat. Some of these roads were steep, and there were a couple of times I didn’t even think I would make it up with just my backpack. The entire ride I was constantly shifting between 3rd and 4th gear, and at one point I even had to drop down to 2nd to make it up. This was one ride where I wished I bought a Honda Win. While the engine sizes may be the same, all the other guys had much better low-end power going up the steep hills than I did. Whenever it went back downhill and up again I would try to get as much momentum as possible to avoid bogging down while going back up. At one point we all stopped midway up a big hill when one of the guys was out of sight behind us. At first we thought he may have had bike problems so I rode back down the hill, and just as I got to the bottom he rounded the bend and made his way up. By this point I had no momentum whatsoever and had to start from the bottom. Needless to say it took a while to get back up.
Sometimes you ride on roads like Highway 1, which is the armpit of roads in Vietnam, and all you want to do is get to your destination as fast as possible and with limited stops. The road we took to Da Lat on the other hand, was absolutely beautiful and it was hard not to stop every 5 minutes to take in the beauty and snap pictures. Between taking pictures, bathroom breaks, and lunch/second lunch, we probably stopped 8 or 9 times in total, and had we had more time we would have stopped more.
All in all including stops it took about 7 hours total to get from Mui Ne to Da Lat. We probably could have done it in less, but like I said you just have to stop and admire the view for a few minutes every now and again.
When we finally got to Da Lat I was really surprised. Instead of a sleepy mountain town like I was expecting, it was more like a city, complete with typical Vietnamese motorbike traffic. While I was surprised, I quickly fell in love with Da Lat and its surrounding areas.
Breada’s bus got there around the same time as I did, but since they drain the gas out of the bikes before loading them on the bus, I had to find a station to fill up a water bottle for her. After driving around aimlessly for 20 minutes or so I finally found a gas station. Luckily, Google Translate came in handy once again and a local pointed me in the right direction.
We stayed in Da Lat for 3 nights, but I probably could have stayed there 3 months and still enjoyed it. There is a lot going on in terms of outdoorsy activities, and we got to experience some of them, but Breada will get into that in a future post. Just know, if you’re ever in Vietnam than Da Lat must be on your itinerary.
And that wraps up Part 3! I wanted to write about the ride back down the mountains, but I think it’s better to break it up in two different posts back to back, because nobody likes a ridiculously long write-up. Feel free to comment and share, and stay tuned for Part 4!
CommentsAdd Your Comment
Anthony, these bikes, are they basically small motorcycles with foot gear shifts, and if so, did you or Breada know how to ride one prior to going? Also, what’s the deal with driver licenses? Did you have to have a special one like here? I gotta tell ya, the place hasn’t changed much since I danced with Charlie back in ’67. Yep, yep. Different times. When I was “in country” before reunification, Da Lat was called Yu Da Man. Also, they had a traffic law that was strictly enforced. Before you could enter a rotary you had to say, “Mother, may I?” Much love to you and Breada. Oh, and don’t say your mother’s maiden name around Da Lat. Let’s just say that not all of your cousins are as tall as Cenzo!
Great read Anthony. And great video with the accompanying song. Perfect!
I was mesmerized watching through your eyes as you drove along that winding road. Loved seeing the locals as you passed by & the cows they were leading. They were cows weren’t they? I don’t blame Breada for taking the bus! Although even with that, you still have to make the same trek and you’re putting all your faith in the driver. But of course they know the roads & probably have travelled them at least a hundred times. Looking forward to more of your & Breada’s posts. More videos too! ?
Love & miss you both.
Love , love reading your posts . I can definitely relate to you, , Breada, since my list of fears keeps growing. Good for you for challenging head on. You two are a match made in heaven. Great pics and videos. I’ve shared this blog with strangers , I meet through out my day. Happy you are having so much fun. At the risk of sounding sexist, I am in complete awe of Breada. Oh well, I can get away with it since I’m a senior citizen. Thanks to both of you for sharing with us. Love and God bless.
Zio – Yeah they’re like mini motorcycles, but they’re semi-automatic rather than full manual. They have the foot shifters but no clutch, you just let go of the throttle before you shift. I was thinking about buying a full sized bike, which is what most backpackers get, but they’re known to break down more often and you stick out as a backpacker riding one since none of the locals have them. When Breada and I have our helmets, sunglasses, and facemasks on you wouldn’t realize we were foreigners unless you were looking at us for a while. A quick glance by a traffic cop and we blend in.
I had a 125cc scooter for a few years before coming here, so I already was used to being on two wheels. I even have my motorcycle license back home, but I didn’t want to buy a bike knowing I would have to sell it before leaving. Breada had taken my bike around back home in some parking lots, but for all intents and purposes she had no experience. She’s picked it up really fast though since we got here and gets a little more comfortable with every ride. Licenses is sort of a grey area here. Some people will tell you an International Driving Permit is ok, some will say you need a Vietnamese license. I just don’t think anyone really knows the actual law. Luckily, we haven’t had any run ins with any traffic police ( knock on wood ), but the going rate for getting out of a violation is about 200,000 Dong ($9). They’ll tell you it’s a fine and you need to pay on the spot, but everyone knows it’s going in their pockets.
And it’s funny you say that, because I could have swore I saw a Vietnamese guy that looked just like Nico. I’ll have him send a late fathers day card.
Thanks Mom! That’s Nico’s band playing in the background. I had been listening to the song while editing the video and I thought it worked well with the tempo of the song and the sped up video of the riding. And yes they were cows. They’re cows all over the roads. One of the guys I was riding with almost hit one one day because it just darted out out of nowhere.
And I don’t know if I trust the bus drivers they drive like maniacs. I feel safer on the bike. The busses will overtake other busses and trucks going around blind turns, not knowing what’s coming around the bend. Just a few days ago there was a big bus crash up in the mountains. One bus lost control of its breaks, hit someone on the road, and then crashed into another bus. Luckily one bus was completely empty except for the driver, but 8 people died and another 18 are in critical condition. We decided we’re just going to stick to the bikes and the occasional train from now on.
Thank you Auntie! Breada is a much better writer than I am. Her posts are always much more descriptive than mine. I blame it on years of business writing in college where they drill it into you to just write the facts and avoid flowery language. And thank you for sharing it with people! We want to attract as wide an audience as possible.
Uncle Lenny would love the town we’re in right now. Hoi An is famous for it’s world class tailors and the prices are unbelievably cheap. I just got 3 pairs of custom tailored shorts made for $65, one of them made out of a nice suit material. You can get an entire 3 piece cashmere suit custom tailored for about $350 and it will be made in about 2 days. In some cases it’s cheaper to fly here, get a suit made, and fly back than it would be to just buy a custom suit back home.
Tell Michael to message me soon. I don’t have my old phone number anymore I had to get a Vietnamese number so I can’t text him. He needs to come out and visit he would love it.
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