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).
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.
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!