Moto Vietnam: Day 6 – And the circle is complete

Mang Truot Falls

Mang Truot Falls

The longest day riding, and overall one of the longest days of my stay in South Vietnam. We set off from Da Lat at 7:45am with the aim of getting to Ho Chi Minh City by early evening. The route is quite simple – you follow the “20” which leads you directly from the mountains down towards the former Saigon.

It’s a tremendously busy route, though, and used by all manner of vehicles not just bikes. There are a few sights to see on the way, many of them waterfalls.

We stopped at the Mang Truot falls which are just off the road not far outside of Da Lat. Thao opted to stay with the bike and have a quick snooze while I walked down to see the falls by myself. They’re rather pretty and have the bizarre addition of a go-kart/toboggan track leading to them similar to the ones I’d seen in Rotorua and Sentosa (Singapore).

More water

More water

A fair bit further down the road we eventually spotted the turnoff for another falls and took ninety or so minutes out of our day to see them also. They were a fair bit off the main road, but well worth it. As with most Vietnamese natural features, you can clamber all over the thing if the mood takes you. No silly guard rails. It’s a lovely place to stop with a lot of shade to chill out if you need it.

Our next stop was for food, just off the main road. We ordered while a table of men kept waving at us and eventually convinced us to join them. Despite having just finished our own food, they fed us some of their wild boar and then insisted I have a shot of rice wine with each of them for photographic purposes. As ever, it’s nice being the foreigner!

We managed to say our goodbyes after a while and got back onto the road. One long section was full of roadworks, puddles, mud and potholes. Progress was slow as we couldn’t get past the heavy trucks and a refreshment stop was definitely needed at the bottom.

From there, it was moderately plain sailing. Until we were pulled over by the police. I’d not done anything wrong, it was just a random stop and you do see them often enough in Vietnam.

New friends

Say cheese - now drink more rice wine

The police decide to target cars, trucks, bikes… whatever. We joined the pool of bikes and I removed my helmet and sunglasses… to see the police officer’s eyes widen as he realised he’d pulled over a foreigner.

This isn’t a bad thing, though I’ve heard of a few cases where bribery has had to result to ensure you were allowed on your way, and the chap was more put aback by the fact that he couldn’t understand me, and I couldn’t understand him. Quickly, he grabbed someone else’s documents and showed them to me – he only wanted the registration document for the bike. Thao had this in her purse and he happily accepted that and waved us on our way with a smile.

As we reached the outskirts of HCM City, the rain started. And continued. And got heavier. Thao had packed one of those huge waterproofs that cover the rider and passenger and we quickly unwrapped it and draped it over ourselves. The rain was tanking down as we got into the city proper then eased off as we neared her house.

Once more, the best thing about the day was the hot shower and change of clothes. It was 6pm by the time we parked up. A very long day in the saddle indeed.

After the freshen up, Thao directed me along the roads and over the river by ferry to District 2. We wended through streets and past the “real” HCM City. No big buildings, but small houses and shacks where the non-bankers lived. Over one of the bridges we found a lovely place to stop for a bia hoi. Free peanuts were provided and a wandering woman sold us pork sausage from a basket. This, really and truly, was the life.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. The bia hoi place closed its doors and we moto’d back to Thao’s place.

Thao, her sister and her mother all slept on one side of the room and I slept on a reed mat on the other. One of these days I’ll get used to that!

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Moto Vietnam: Day 5 – A Day in Da Lat

Xuan Huong Lake

Xuan Huong Lake

Today was a lazy day – well deserved after the arse-numbing ride the day before. We opted to make use of our legs for a change and took a wander around the lake. The guide books reckon it’s 7km, but it didn’t seem anywhere near that far as we ambled around in just over an hour.

The Peace Cafe was so nice the night before that we just had to pop back in for a passion fruit juice. Simply DO NOT miss out on this beverage. Best ever.

Hundred Roofs Cafe

Hundred Roofs Cafe

A short walk away found us at the 100 Rooftops Cafe where we had ice cream. The commemorates a building torn down by the government for its failure to meet planning regulations. Or for being ugly. Or something. Either way, the cafe itself if a work of complete, utter, mad raving genius/lunacy. It’s as if someone’s given a schizophrenic full license with the world’s supply of plaster and paint – more like a funhouse then a restaurant.

After a quick email check we tenderly popped our bums back onto the bike and headed through the rain to the seamstress art village a couple of kilometres away.

Seamstress Art Village

Seamstress Art Village

This is a very strange yet serene place. There are many examples of local art, both traditional and contemporary. Check out the prices on some of the paintings, though. They’re pricey even by western standards.

Fortunately the restaurant has a cheap 10,000D option where you can sample a variety of foods and guzzle green tea. It’s just round from an artificial stream and forest and several installations.

There are some lovely photo ops here, but do watch for the weather as a fair amount of the village is outdoors. One downside is that a lot of the information is in Vietnamese with no translation available for Johnny Foreigner.

Hundred Roofs Cafe at night

Hundred Roofs Cafe at night

Back in the city, we picked out HNL for dinner. I had a lotus root salad and chicken which was very nice indeed. I also pinched some of Thao‘s chicken hotpot and indulged in another passion fruit juice. In fairness, just as good as the Peace Cafe’s offering.

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A week by motorcycle around South Vietnam: Overview

another street in Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh
At one with the locals

I’m very late in typing this up and getting it posted but I’ve been really busy since getting back from Vietnam. This post is a brief overview of the trip I took with Thao. I’ll be adding more detailed posts for each day shortly and they’ll be linked from here.

The idea of this one is to let someone interested in following out route know road details, distances, times and the like. Note that we did this trip in August 2009 with good (hot) weather. The roads are changing a lot in Vietnam so don’t rely completely on Lonely Planet for your directions. Ask locals and get a new map.

A lot more hints and recommendations relating to motorcycle travel in Vietnam can be found in this accompanying post.

Sun 16th Aug

Set off from Ho Chi Minh City at around 11:30am. We had one stop for a flat tyre just outside the city limits and passed through Phan Thiet where we stopped for an hour or so. Just outside Mui Ne we went to take photos of the orange sand dune and got to accommodation around 5:30pm.

Mon 17th Aug

Left Mui Ne around 9:00am. Got to Phan Rang at 1:00pm then left again at 2:30pm after viewing the Cham structures. Arrived in Nha Trang at roughly 6:00pm including one internet stop of about an hour on the way.

Tue 18th Aug

Full day in Nha Trang

Wed 19th Aug

Left Nha Trang at 8:00am. 20km south of the city is a “new” road which is signposted for Da Lat. We followed this in a straight line for maybe 10-15km to a very small roundabout in a small-ish town where we turned left. This is the first sign for Da Lat after the one on the main road.

The first proper petrol station we passed, many kilometres later, wasn’t open yet though looked near completion. The next one we hit was around 70km from Nha Trang. We filled up there and had lunch just along the road before passing another station a kilometre or so further along.

The next fuel station is a long way off and the journey to it includes a lot of uphill driving. There are some little home-brew petrol pumps on the way as well, but I believe these are pretty pricey. On a small bike you must fill up at one of the main ones or you’ll realy run the risk of being stranded.

We arrived in Da Lat around 2:00pm

Thu 20th Aug

Full day in Da Lat

Fri 21st Aug

We left Da Lat at 7:45am and took the “20” direct to Ho Chi Minh City as it was the fastest route. It’s mainly downhill and gets very busy. There are plenty of waterfalls to see off the route, but the signposting for them varies from “can’t miss it” to “virtually non-existant”.

Including one lunch and one internet stop, we made it to HCM City around 6:00pm.

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Moto Vietnam: Day 4 – Nha Trang to Da Lat

Fishing boat

When the boat comes in

Today required another early start as we had to make it all the way to Dalat – we set off just after 8am. Being that it’s up in the mountains, we wanted to ensure we caught the good weather. Dalat has a much different climate to the coastal areas, with lower temperatures and some chance of rain. Also, the roads would be heading “up” and we weren’t sure how the bike would cope with the additional gravity.

The route isn’t too complex and there is a new road in place which reduces the distance to around 130km. Head around 20km south of Nha Trang then turn right. It is signposted, but only just! Just follow the road you join in a more or less straight line until the first signed junction (a left) and from then on, keep going.

Nha Trang Cathedral

Cathedral and flags

It’s a good road – very smooth for the most part. But what makes it is the scenery. It’s simply mindbogglingly beautiful. There was little traffic on the road as we passed through so there was no problem stopping to take pictures now and then. Do note the distinct lack of crash barriers on the mountainous parts though. Staying awake is a very important part of the drive.

We stopped for breakfast at a small cafe before we hit the mountainous areas. Given that we weren’t anywhere near a tourist area, we received a fair bit of attention due to me looking somewhat different from everyone else! Pho Bo was the dish, and we ate it surrounded by a horde of local kids who were waiting for what I think was their lift to school.

Amazing scenery

Just staggering

As we approached Da Lat the temperatures definitely dropped and there were even a few spots of rain. Fortunately, the heavens didn’t open on us and we managed to find a hotel not far from the lake. Cheap room, good view and a hot shower! All in all a 6 hour journey which wasn’t too bad at all.

After the long ride, we treated ourselves to the chocolate buffet at the Sofitel. There was less choice than the Hanoi equivalent, but it also cost a little less ($21.04 inclusive for two people).


Natural shower

We then wandered over to the chopping area so that I could pick up a jumper. It’s fine for walking around, but while riding the bike I was getting a tad chilly. Thao was very impressed with my haggling abilities as I got a sweater down to 120,000D. She said she’d have given up and got it for 160,000D. We also grabbed some fruit and went back to the hotel as the rain started to come down more heavily.

We chilled and watched TV for a bit and then went for a stroll, eventually finding the Peace Cafe with its incredibly genial hostess.

I was tempted to stay up till 3:30am to follow the NUFC v Sheffield Wednesday game on my mobile (via the free wifi) but for some reason I was rather tuckered out!

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Vietnam and East Timor take shape

I have to throw a couple of “thanks” out here. First of all to Thao in Ho Chi Minh City who’s helping me plan what promises to be an awesome week or so motorcycling around the south of Vietnam. I’ve been wanting to ride round the whole country since well before that Top Gear episode, but time is short. However, covering around a quarter of the place and seeing many towns and roads I’ve not encountered before promises to be amazing!

I think the plan right now is to circle round from HCM to Da Lat, then Nah Trang, Mui Ne Beach and back to the city again. If there’s time I’d love to get as far up as the DMZ near Da Nang, but that might be pushing it.

Next up, TravelFish on Twitter put me in touch with Matt who’s been able to provide me with some very useful information regarding flights to and from East Timor. I was about to give up on this adventure (mainly due to time constraints), but now it looks like it could be both affordable and enjoyable. I may try and make part of the journey there by land, but fly back out to Denpasar. He’s done this journey before and knowing this gives me a quite a bit of comfort.

I’ll likely be flying with Mupati. Unfortunately, their web page is still at the “under construction” phase so I wasn’t able to check times and prices on there. The only other alternatives were from Singapore (far too expensive) and Darwin (stupid long route round and as a result, very expensive as well). Flying from Bali is still not cheap, but it’s a lot cheaper.

Any other time I’d have just turned up and winged up, but two to three years ago I wasn’t on any real schedule. I also had a hell of a lot more money!

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