So, the final proper day of riding was upon us. After the slightly disturbed sleep in the PX Hotel overnight I was in dire need of both coffee and stodge, and Quang helped us achieve both at the local Highlands Coffee branch, acquiring another excellent egg and chilli roll from a local street vendor to accompany it. However, I realised that actually there’s a bit of linguistic skill in acquiring them. When I went back for another one to provide an en-route snack I received a barely filled roll with some chicken in it. FAIL. You need to be specific, obviously.
We set out to explore some of Dalat’s French architecture and wide streets. As the former colonial capital, it looks very different to most other Vietnamese cities. And it’s distinctly cooler than anywhere else in Vietnam I visited. Pleasant, though. The first stop immensely pleased the train geek within me- Dalat’s old railway station, built by the French. Sadly now most of the tracks have gone, only leaving a solitary 7km branch line to a village in the hills. A trip for next time, then…
And then onwards, to the Crazy House, which is apparently ranked within the “Top 10 craziest buildings in the world”. I remain skeptical that such a list exists, whatever Quang may say but nonetheless, it was a pretty crazy house. There’s also a hotel within the compound that you can stay at. All very odd. Built apparently on the behest of a Russian architect and still not finished.
Next we headed to see a really pleasant, peaceful pagoda and grounds. A slight shock to the system after days of being by ourselves in the sticks as there was a very large, very ‘All the sights’ tour group also going round, so I beat a tactical retreat to “Paradise Lake” behind it. Sadly we didn’t have time for a spin on the swan pedalos.
Onwards, via a mushroom farm. Fascinatingly, the farm is surrounded by really decent-looking houses, nice cars parked up and a general air of wealth. This is because the farmers have a specific method of growing this mushroom that cannot be copied- Therefore, they are rich mushroom farmers! Where there’s muck, there’s brass…
Onwards. Our next stop was the Pongour waterfall, one of the biggest in Vietnam. We picked up with another couple of Easy Riders here, Dutch women who had originally requested Quang as a guide however I’d stolen him!
On my way down to the bottom of the waterfall I wandered over the volcanic rock that forms its base- Due to the low rainfall the waterfall and river were very low. A group of young Vietnamese people shouted over to me as I went down- I waved and carried on but on my way back they were more insistent that I join them.
The rule of this holiday is to always say yes, so I pulled up a seat at their picnic!
After a beer, some tofu and some other very random snacks foisted upon me, I managed to waddle back up the steps to Quang and the others. Sadly none of my new Vietnamese friends really spoke any English at all, but we managed to communicate very effectively through the twin measures of sign language and the medium of food. It’s nice to be welcomed in though… Another few random foreigner photos of me on Vietnamese phones, floating through cyberspace!
Returning to some intense banter between the Easy Riders, we eventually escaped the gravitational pull of the hammocks and rejoined the road. Next stop, an incense factory. Housed in a nice pagoda, but of no more interest than that!
Onto lunch at a local roadside cafe. The Dutch women were only touring for 2 days, and appeared somewhat shocked that I’d handed over dietary control to Quang. My excellent tactic was proven right again however, as ours was far more interesting than theirs!
And then, back over our final set of hills before descending towards Mui Ne. I got all arty, I’m afraid. I was impressed that Quang put up with my photographic whims for such a long stop. Fantastic place however… Mile after mile of pristine countryside stretching into the distance. I got slightly miffed as I waved individually at 4 Western guys in a group on bikes and not one replied… Grumpy tourists!
The singing of the cicadas up here was incredibly loud, a constant metallic whine. I thought something was wrong with the bike until we stopped and the noise continued! En route through the switchbacks down, we passed another Western guy on a bike who seemed to have trouble, however he completely ignored me gesturing to him if he was OK or not. We took a short break in a roadside cafe and then saw another tourist in strife with his bike chain. I wanted to stop and offer assistance but Quang did not.
Talking to him about it, he explained that loads of tourists got into trouble through buying badly maintained bikes- Particularly in remote areas like this one. I saw his point of view really, these are people who haven’t paid to do the trip properly with a guide and backup so why should the Easy Riders bail them out? He also said that the Police had a busy checkpoint on the entrance to Dalat seizing bikes from unlicensed tourists and this might happen to our grumpy friends from earlier. Shame!
Some of the guys we saw riding really couldn’t- I completely see the appeal of doing it by yourself and everything but seriously, LEARN TO RIDE A MOTORBIKE BEFORE YOU EMBARK ON THE TRIP! I saw so many Westerners with war wounds from when their DIY approach went wrong. The guy I saw did have an Easy Rider guide with his girlfriend as pillion but he genuinely looked like he’d not even learnt to ride a push bike. You can’t be that wobbly and incompetent when a truck’s coming towards you at Warp Factor 9.
According to Quang later, he also had his bike seized upon entering Dalat. Probably safest.
Down onto the plains, and the riding got easier, with the roads smoother. Riding with a small group as we were now was fun, and gave me an opportunity to try taking action shots from the back of the bike. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not.
Down the coastal road towards Mui Ne, and the end of the trip…. Fantastic.
So, a stop off at the red sand dunes, perfectly timed for sunrise, and we were done. Over a thousand kilometres, and a week i’ll remember for life.
Checked in to the guest house, I sorted out the next night’s accommodation and joined Quang and his fellow guides for beer, banter and a spinning chicken head. Great night, and a great group of guys, despite my lack of Vietnamese you pick up the gist of a conversation pretty easily, particularly when it’s accompanied with, er, hip movements…
The next morning was undeniably painful since we had to be up by 7 to go to Quang’s University friend’s wedding 60km up the coast. I was really pleased to have been invited to this, and jumped at the chance, but it didn’t make my head any less thick…
And, by 9.30am, I was sat at a table and cracking on quite vigorously with the Tiger beer. Lots of full-pint “cheers” downings being called on our table too.
By 10am Quang suggested a photo with my watch to demonstrate the early inebriation. The lady beside me doesn’t look impressed. Must be my Cologne.
Some speeches from the family and the happy couple continued.
And by 10.45am I was up on stage, singing Hotel California, in front of several hundred people. These people. Tough crowd.
I caught sight of Quang several times during my performance burying his head in his hands. I think he was particularly disappointed that I’d used my phone to refresh the words as I was on stage. This is apparently a big karaoke faux-pas. In my defence, in the Venn diagram of “Songs Sam knows the words to” and “Songs that a Vietnamese wedding band might know how to play” there is very little intersection.
It wasn’t my most distinguished karaoke performance. If I was even mildly sober I imagine it might have been scary. But we had the rest of the food to polish off, including the biggest prawns I’ve ever seen. Oh, and a snail salad, which was predictably horrific. But on the whole the food was amazing.
The wedding wrapped up incredibly quickly at 11.30am, so we bid farewell to the bride and groom…
…and made our way back to Mui Ne, where I bid farewell to Quang and checked myself in to the Backpacker Village. £9 a night for a decent double room, large pool and boatloads of backpacker totty. Ideal for a couple of days R+R. Now, where’s my ring cushion?
I booked my tour through Easy Riders Vietnam. (http://www.easy-riders.net), paying $640 for an 8 day tour. The tour cost is generally $80USD per day, which includes overnight accommodation (own room), all bike related costs, entrance fees and an experienced guide (This involves riding pillion, check with them regarding second bike hire costs. The only thing not included is food and drink, which generally cost me no more than $7 a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner plus coffee, beer etc. The company is run by Tuan who is very helpful and flexible in designing itineraries to fit you, you can basically go TO anywhere FROM anywhere in Vietnam, the only limiting factor is time and money!
And if you want a great guide, James (Quang) is it… So ask for him!