Dalat to Ho Chi Minh City
- 7 hours riding time
We started the day bright and early and made our way down to the bikes at about 6:15am. The only criticism I have of the Thien An Hotel, and to be clear I couldn’t recommend the place highly enough, is that it doesn’t have a lift. Our room was on the top floor, the three windows you can see in the picture below, and hauling our luggage up and down was a bit of a pain. More so after the previous days riding than taking the stuff back down this morning.
Today would be a day of ‘lasts’. Some, like the pain of sitting on a bike seat for 10 hours, we would be grateful of, and others like the last day of our adventure we would truly miss. As the sun came up we set about doing our last morning of general maintenance on the bikes (tightening and oiling the chain). They had coped an absolute beating the day before from riding on dirt and stones for most of the day. My electronic starter had also finally decided this morning that it couldn’t take it any more and had packed up. Thankfully a quick kick of the kick starter had my bike purring again.
Once done we went back in to checkout only to find that our wonderful hosts had got up early to make us breakfast which usually doesn’t start until 7am. This wasn’t just any breakfast either. We had a whole table packed with fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, breads, jams and even Vegemite. We were also offered eggs or omelettes. This was by far the best breakfast we’d had all trip and had been completely unexpected.
Having stuffed down all we could eat we hit the road about 7am. Slightly later than we had planned but well worth the delay to have enjoyed the breakfast. The morning was quite cool and it was one of the few days I had opted for a t-shirt under my riding jacket rather than just a singlet. As we wound our way through the cold fog covered mountains out of Dalat I was very glad I’d made that decision.
About 30kms out of Dalat we hit Hwy QL20 and received a very pleasant surprise. This was the first modern highway we had seen all trip with 2 lanes each way and even dedicated bike lanes, separated by concrete barriers on either side. By the fist pumping and waving you’d have thought we’d just won a marathon. As wonderful as the winding mountain roads we had travelled on over the last nine days were, it was a huge relief to finally be on a road where you weren’t constantly on edge waiting for the next gigantic pothole, buffalo, mudslide or drying crop to appear on the road in front of you. Unfortunately it wouldn’t last long until the road became a toll way for vehicles only and we were ushered off onto the older HWY 20. Although not quite as good as the freeway, the road was still in good enough condition that we continued to make great time.
The downside to coming down out of the mountains around Dalat was the temperature started to increase dramatically. By the time we hit Bao Loc it was unbearable even to stop at the lights for 20 seconds without unzipping the jackets. We hadn’t felt heat like this on the ride so far and Shaun, with his leather jacket was feeling it far more than the rest of us. As such we tried to make regular stops where ever we could find a tree to park the bikes under for a few minutes.
By 11am we were ready for lunch and stopped at a small town just short of the Hwy 1A turnoff. This would be our last Pho Chau (beef noodle soup) of the trip and something I would crave constantly after returning to Australia. It should also be noted that the beef in our noodle soups would progressively get less and less cooked the further south we made it. This is somewhat concerning given the fact that many of the places we stopped to eat had their meat just sitting on steel bench tops in 30+ degree heat but it didn’t stop us eating it and amazingly none of us ever got sick from it.
Once back on the road we hit Hwy 1A and abt 40km out of Ho Chi Minh City our progress came to a grinding halt. Having comfortably averaging 60km/h all morning on Hwy 20 we were back to about 20km/h on a road 3 lanes wide full of semi trailers, container trucks, large busses and other vehicles. At such low speeds and with the exhaust fumes and dust kicked up by the trucks riding became quite painful. It was at times like riding with a heater blowing straight in your face. Better yet we often found ourselves dodging not only other vehicles swerving without warning into the bike lanes to get past the car in front, but also the empty bottles and general rubbish being hurled from the windows of the busses we passed. While not only dangerous it was truly sad to see the attitude towards littering in what was otherwise a truly beautiful country.
Finding our way into Ho Chi Minh City was also made fund by a couple of roads where motorbike riders are not allowed. We had plotted our route into the hotel on Google maps during a stop just out of town but unfortunately it had no way of knowing we were on bikes and were unable to use the major road we needed to get to the hotel. After three or four stops to check we were till going the right way we eventually found the street our hotel was on. We had opted to stay at the Hong Han Family Hotel as its sister hotel Bich Duyen, where we had stayed on our first night in Vietnam was fully booked. By 2pm we arrived at the hotel completely exhausted. My legs were shaking so badly I could barely stand and Shaun didn’t even make it in the doorway before collapsing t the ground. The heat that day and exhaustion from 10 days and 2230kms of riding had taken its toll.
We sat in the foyer of the hotel for a good 30 minutes before finally making a move. We had to take our stuff upstairs and then navigate our way to the Flamingo Travel office in HCMC to return the bikes. Thankfully, after digging up the address we found out the office was only a few blocks away and we wouldn’t have to ride far. We donned our helmets and riding gear for one last time and set off through the Saigon traffic. After finding the street and spending 10 minutes riding up and down trying to find the number we were looking for we were directed down a tiny alley (that had its own street number) and made our way to the office.
As it turned out that there was no office, just a cafe that you can see in the picture above. After a bit of confusion and a couple of phone calls we found out we were in fact in the right place and packed up the bikes and wandered inside to finalise the paperwork.
After a quick inspection, our bonds were returned and we said farewell to our bikes that had treated us so well. We caught a cab back to the hotel for a nice cold shower and then hit the pub to reminisce and celebrate. It had truly been an amazing 10 days. We had ridden on every imaginable surface, over mountains and through valleys, in fog, rain, and scorching heat and we had all survived. We had seen the huge diversity throughout Vietnam from the simple villages of Mai Chau and the mountains, to the culture and history of Hoi An, to the beach side party atmosphere of Nha Trang and back to the bustling city life of Saigon. We had been truly spoilt in what we had experienced and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
10 days ago I had hesitantly hit the road on a motorbike for the first time and in a foreign country no less. 2230kms later through winding open roads and avoiding trucks, buses and other bikes on intercity highways I had made it! In one piece no less. I now considered myself a biker. I had never understood the appeal of motorbikes back home but it now all made sense to me. There is truly no other way to enjoy a country like Vietnam than on the seat of a motorbike with the wind in your face, engrossed in the natural beauty that surrounds you.
I know most people will never understand just how amazing this adventure was without having experience something like this themselves. All I hope is that this blog will serve as a reminder to myself and maybe some inspiration to others out there.
We did have a couple of days either end of the motorbike riding that were spent at Halong Bay up north and out at the Cu Chi tunnels in the south. If you would like to read about either of them please check out the links below. They are mainly photo galleries so please enjoy.