Rob and I departed Mui Ne early in the day. We had heard that the stoplight by the sand dunes was a common police checkpoint where foreigners are often stopped. Mui Ne has had numerous motorbike accidents involving tourists so there was some crackdown on foreigners driving motorbikes (not that this had stopped rental companies). Thankfully, we made it out of town without any problems except the fact that we hadn’t had breakfast. Finally, when we intersected Highway 1, we finally found a multitude of local food sans tour buses and a great breakfast bowl of pho bò.
Our route stayed on highway 1 for ~2 blocks before we picked up a smaller road headed inland. This road climbed gently for awhile taking us past a series of reservoirs before climbing a mountain pass in earnest. Along the lakes there were plenty of shaded refreshment stands with hammocks, however, we passed them by having just stopped for breakfast. We didn’t reach another one until way over the pass. At one point, I asked Rob if the burning smell was the bike and he replied that it was just people burning stuff (which we did pass too). We kept going. Finally, we find a shady spot to stop. The engine is smoking. We give it awhile to cool before continuing more slowly. At this point, we pretty much at the top and had a glorious descent down the other side.
We reached a roadside rest stop at last! Rob got his sugarcane drink, nước mía and we lounged in hammocks for awhile. Getting closer Da Lat, we joined Highway 20 for a period. This was some of the worst riding of the trip with trucks passing each other on a two lane road blaring their horns to clear the bikes traveling in the designated direction. Some sections of the road were undergoing construction, which didn’t help. We reached an expressway at some point with a great scooter road alongside. The scooter road quickly turned into a dirt path which led back to car road for a stint then branched again onto dirt. At this last split, Rob decided just to continue on the car road marked with no scooter signs as that’s what our route had marked. About 12 km out of Da Lat, the scooter road returned.
Out of nowhere, we reached a parking lot full of tour buses and pulled over to investigate. It turned out to be a waterfall, but I was more interested in lunch. Trying to move the bike from our initial stopping point to the food stall, Rob couldn’t get it to start and refused to have someone start looking at it while we had lunch. The food was extremely disappointing. Rob ended up with Pho again and I had a baguette with fried egg that I was happy with until I noticed the abundance of black speckles in the bread that were cooked little bugs. After lunch, the bike still didn’t start. Another backpacker tried a few things to no avail. The large parking lot with the restaurants has a mechanic. He tried a variety of things for an hour or more before sending us down a bit of hill to another shop. The new mechanic did a couple tests before pointing at the engine and indicating that he needed to take it apart. We ended up getting a new head for the engine for $20. It took over an hour, but the bike finally started and we made it into town just before 7 pm.
We found our hotel without too much issue despite it having a similar name to so many others. On the way to My dream hotel, we passed dreams hotel, dreams hotel 3, sweet dream hotel and more.For dinner, Rob and wandered tasting food from a variety of vendors. After dinner, we headed to 100 roofs, a crazy bar recommended to us by some folks we met at a hostel heading the opposite direction. Rob had arranged to meet another friend from Siam Reap and Saigon there. While waiting for him, we ran into the Canadians from the previous night in Mui Ne that we had told about the place. We had a great time great lost in all its levels and passages. The décor is ridiculous with sculpted faces and such everywhere.
The next morning, we woke early for a canyoning trip with Groovy Gecko (motto-Be crazy not lazy!) I was a bit lazy and skipped out on the cliff jumping. Other than that, this was a pretty awesome day. We did a bunch of off-road driving (the guide not us, but it was pretty rough just riding in back), 1 dry rappel, 4 waterfall rappels, cliff jumping and 1 small waterslide with a spot of lunch to break up the day. The waterfalls were very slick and we all fell at different points, especially on the long one at 65m, which took awhile to get down.
Since we wanted a full day to drive to Nha Trang, we decided to stay one more night so we could get a few bike maintenance things done (oil change, spoke fix, new rear bearings) and explore around Da Lat for a day then and leave in the next morning. Our great $10 budget hotel was sadly not available so we moved to a hostel with a fun atmosphere, Easy Tiger.
After checking in, we realized that my sunglasses were missing, so we had to made a trip back to the first hotel. Turns out, they were in our first hotel room that the staff had moved us out of and had fallen under a curtain. Then, we spent awhile trying to find the national park office to book a tour for the next day. Eventually, we located the correct building accessible from a side street one over from the listed address. The building was full of motorbikes but not a person in sight. One person showed up as we were about to leave and explained that this is just an admin office. Oops!
Ravenous Rob demands feeding, so we headed to Artist Alley to get him the ostrich burger that the Canadians had raved about. It turned out to be an ostrich steak but it was darn good. My avocado salad was fine but they weren’t as flavorful as I hoped.
We spent the afternoon exploring more of town and visiting crazy house, a ever-growing house with sections connected by soaring bridges, ladders or small passages. Da Lat is much cooler then much of Vietnam, so it’s a common domestic vacation spot, especially for honeymoons. This is their winter but still it’s not that cold. We were heartily entertained seeing locals everywhere in hats, scarves and all manner of down jackets.
This was international women’s day, which is a big deal here because men and women are not considered equals as far as we can tell. We had seen flowers for sale everywhere walking around the city. From what we saw, women’s day meant the women got offered shots with everyone else and the husbands drank as per usual. I hope our host wife at least got a rain check on it.
Many of the hostels here do a family style dinner for a few dollars so we joined out hostel’s one. With a small group, we pulled tables and chairs street-side for a meal of soup, pumpkin, rice, BBQ prawns/dried squid(fishy and very chewy), stir-fried spleen of some animal(well-seasoned but very chewy)/meat/veggies and of course, happy water. The happy water arrived in a two liter water bottle. When it was gone, it was replaced with a bottles of Men brand vodka. Rob bought the third bottle. Someone else bought a fourth. Each was $3.