We didn’t go long without feeling the itch for the road and, upon hearing that the roads around Nha Trang, Dalat and Mui Ne were some of the best driving in Vietnam, we signed up for a three day tour of the central highlands.
We settled on Peter from Dalat Easy Riders. He was the original Easy Rider in town, taking a couple of Aussie girls on a tour of the country back in 1991. Now the Easy Rider business is huge and dominates the Dalat tour scene with hundreds of imitators, but he was the original and his reviews were very good so we went for it.
We booked a three day tour for USD 60pp per day where we’d each get to ride our own bikes and he’d carry our luggage. A lot of the people we reached out to were charging more or wouldn’t let us ride our own bikes, so Peter sounded perfect!
Day One – Nha Trang to Boun Me Thuot (210km)
After picking up the bikes (125CC Yamaha Nouvo automatics) and loading up we took a quick trip to Long Son Pagoda. There is a pretty pagoda with buddhas statues and around the back 152 steps lead up to a reclining buddha and further up a huge white buddha offering great views.
From there we navigated the traffic and got onto the coastal road driving north along the beach. It was some pretty driving and passed by rice fields, shrimp farms and a beautiful (if not smelly) fishing village.
Continuing north and after a brief stop for lunch, we arrived at the Phoenix Pass, a Hai Van Pass type road, with back to back hairpin turns and great views of the valley. It offered a glimpse of what was to come.
We carried on the road for a while, admiring the scenery before Peter took a sharp left down a small path. Time to off-road! The tarmac was replaced by pot-holes and gravel but the scenery got better and better. At one point we road through a building site where the road was under construction, weaving through the bulldozers and diggers before crossing a pretty rickety wooden suspension bridge.
At various points on the road we pulled over and Peter explained pepper, rice production and tobacco plantations in Vietnam. It was nice to hear about it from a local and he answered any questions we had.
With the sun coming down and a lot of miles under our belt we finally arrived at BMT around 5pm. We were exhausted, but we’d had a fantastic day. We stayed at a pretty basic homestay, but it had a bed, internet and a hot shower. Dinner was more traditional Vietnamese food and we were in bed fast asleep by about 9pm; excited for the next day’s adventures.
Day Two – Boun Me Thuot to Lake Lak (120km)
The next morning after a later start we drove round the corner to the Draysap and Draynur falls. Arriving he told us that because it was dry season the waterfalls had dried up but that we could still go for a swim in the hydro electric power plants dam. Great! Not quite what we expected but the water was very clear and refreshing.
Back on the road we drove through more great scenery towards Lake Lak where we’d been offered the option of an elephant ride (USD 30) or a boat tour (VND 200k). we opted for the boat as we’d done a lot of elephant stuff in Laos and it was lot cheaper. Arriving at the Jun Village, home to the M’nong ethnic minority, we were very glad we opted for the boat as we saw the elephants. They looked in poor health and one of them had clearly had his tusks sawn off! Our protestations fell on deaf ears and Peter said they were too valuable so always get cut off and sold (apparently for USD 15,000).
Pretty annoyed by the whole place we got in our boat and rode around the lake looking at their fishing operations. It was baking hot, couldn’t get the elephant cruelty out of our heads and just wanted to get back on the bikes.
Relieved to be driving again with a cool breeze we tried to enjoy the rest of the day. We stopped in at a granite/marble and brick factory and were shown how they made their wares. We also passed a tapioca farm and a lot of wild animals on the road.
Arriving at our bungalow, this time with a pretty nice view over a river, it was nice to relax. Wandering round the grounds we found a pretty high tech astro pitch with local kids playing some serious football matches. We looked on as all the local kids giggled about how tall we were.
In the evening we went out for “fondue” which was actually a large boiling pot of stuff. Peter loved it but we ordered some noodles sticking to that and some beers. We had a lost-in-translation conversation about how he got the company started before getting some beers to go and heading home to watch Thor: The Dark World and relaxing.
Day Three – Lake Lak to Dalat (160km)
Back on the road for our final day we drove through some of the best scenery of the trip, approaching Dalat. First though we had to stop at a garage to get Katie’s speedometer fixed. Whilst a seemingly 13 year old fixed it we met a hilarious little boy who interviewed me on the UK, it’s weather and my thoughts on Vietnam. He was comedy.
We stopped for Peter to show us coffee plantations on the roadside and later stopped in at a weasel coffee factory. He showed us the weasals in the cages and a bag of the final product after they’ve pooed out the beans. The coffee sells for five times as much as regular coffee and the bag was worth thousands of dollars. They didn’t look very happy in their cages and another tour guide woke one up to get him to do something (animal welfare doesn’t seem to be much of a concern here).
After some more superb views we stopped in at a silk worm factory where they harvest the cocoons of silk worms for their silk. They get a strand from the cocoon then fix it to a machine which unravels it. Nothing goes to waste and the larvae are sold at the market to be eaten. It was quite an interesting process and the finished products are incredibly soft. I can now see why silk costs so much!
Our final scheduled stop was at Thac Voi, the Elephant Waterfalls, and after arriving there we saw our first westerners for three days which was a bit strange. The falls are pretty good and it was nice that these ones were running despite it being dry season. We clambered down some sketchy carved into rock and to the bottom; this place definitely wouldn’t pass health and safety laws in the West. You can work your way round to the back of the falls and over some boulders round to the front for some good views.
On our final stretch into town Peter offered to show us his farm so we took a little detour. He showed us his flower farm and coffee plantations. The views were great and he had a couple of cute puppies that Katie fell in love with.
Driving to our hotel we had to take an unfinished road and watched a massive digger block traffic for a few minutes whilst it pushed some massive boulders off a cliff. Whatever was below isn’t there anymore!
We had a few fantastic days on the road and it was great to see the real Vietnam, but we were glad to be back in civilisation with a proper bed and eat some non-Vietnamese food. And if you’re wondering we’re already planning our next bike trip!