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!