I awoke in my jungle lodge and found Quang in reception at the appointed time, seeming very quiet and subdued. We loaded the bike up and I gently enquired if his toothache was bad… Thinking I’d made a faux pas and concerned why I asked him if everything was ok… I was conscious that we had a lot of KMs to put in today and didn’t want a bad atmosphere.
“Fucking neighbours!” he replied, in typically direct/amusing style and went on to explain that due to the occupants of his neighbouring room having been engaged in the aforementioned activity for most of the night he hadn’t managed to sleep much. Phew, that’s alright then! I really enjoyed the trip, but being 1:1 with a guide and together for the vast majority of the day does make it quite intense. You need to raise any ‘atmosphere’ immediately to prevent awkwardness!
But anyway, we both agreed that not enough sleep had been gained- Him due to his neighbours and me due to a vast encroaching hangover- and resolved to have a Red Bull each at our first rest stop.
First sightseeing stop was Kontum’s wooden church. Catholicism has a surprising foothold in this area due to French missionaries coming over here in the early 20th Century. This church in particular was built in 1915 using local wood, but with all fittings being shipped from France. It remains in staggeringly good condition. There is still an active church community here including an orphanage behind the church.
Quang told me that 90% of ethnic minority people in the region remain Catholic today due to the effect of the missions.
After then, it was time to hit the road- We had 240km to cover today in order to get to the next major town, there apparently isn’t much to see, nor places to stay, in the meantime. However, first it was time to visit a roadside mechanic. Not because anything was wrong, but because small CC bikes need the oil changing very regularly- Quang changed his every 1000km. This was an amusingly routine and quick procedure- 5 minutes tops whilst the mechanic changed the oil, oiled the chain and checked the tyre pressures. It seems that you CAN get quicker than a Kwik Fit fitter, after all…
After then, it was pedal to the metal, highway miles, with the odd stop to stretch, and some mid-morning hammock and Red Bull time. These roadside cafes are a godsend and help to relax the lumbar/nether regions after sitting on the bike for a long time!
We soon left the highway however, and hit the country roads to see some more of the central highlands’ thriving agriculture. Huge tea plantations form the bulk of the land in this area:
Next stop after then was Sea Lake, or the “Eye of the highlands”, a huge volcanic lake which provides all of Pleiku city’s drinking water. It’s an amazing place with clear blue water, and a very peaceful shoreline. Well, apart from the hordes of other visitors… Yet again I got pulled into a random foreigner photo! It’s amusing to think of all these images of me with random locals just floating around in cyberspace. Look… He’s tall! And Western!
Then onwards to our lunch stop in a small town… A noticeably ‘posher’ restaurant which serves amazing fried chicken and lemon rice. Probably one of our top 3 meals, and also with bitter melon stuffed with pork. I’d never seen this vegetable before but it does go well with sweet pork- Probably akin to a slightly more bitter courgette. And naturally a range of salt/pepper and sweet chilli dips. Ideal.
Afterwards I noticed a girl selling fruit in the restaurant so bought a tray, it’s a Vietnamese vegetable called ‘Coc’ (Stop sniggering) which apparently has no Western name. I wasn’t particularly taken with it, but Quang told me most people eat it with salt… Yuk!
In the afternoon we continued to pile on the KMs as we still had a long way to go. Still time for more hammock time en route though… And a refreshing glass of sugar cane juice.
Passing right through the farming heartland we got to see all sorts of crops including coffee and also, interestingly, pepper plantations. I think sometimes in the UK we are so removed from our food and where it comes from- I’d never have known that the individually-picked peppercorns came from bushes like this.
On long stretches of highway the crazy drivers of Vietnam really made themselves known. On this afternoon it was nutters on two wheels, however the predominant hazard is trucks, they really aren’t into behaving considerately around anyone… Only once did we have a positive interaction when a petrol tanker moved over and indicated to let us pass.
And on the country roads you’re constantly having to pass the farm traffic… Most of the rural farmers use these ridiculously simple but effective tractor/pickup hybrids with a belt-driven engine on the front. Not the fastest of vehicles though.
Our final stop before reaching Buon Ma Thuot was a rubber plantation- Again it’s something which you’d never really think of the origins but it has to be slowly tapped from an orchard of trees like these ones.
We arrived in Buon Ma Thuot in the early evening and checked in to yet another hotel with attached ‘massage’ facilities. As the hotels go they’re fairly simple but alright, the addition of ‘massage’ seems pretty common in the countryside.
Another ace meal which Quang chose… Deep fried tofu with brilliant crispy noodles, and sweet potato wedges on the side. With, praise the lord, mayo. The tofu came with a plate of herb leaves with magical qualities, a quick bit of Google Translate revealed them to be Vietnamese Perilla leaves, and whilst they seemed slightly nettle-y they changed the taste of the tofu to an amazing tangy/dry one. Good tip!
So, some pool to shoot, unsuccessfully, against another Easy Rider, then turn in for the night. Quang is a bit of a pool wizard but sadly his doubles partner was rubbish. Sorry!