By some apps, we climbed more than 6,000 feet in 44 miles on our way to Da Lat, an area renowned for its temperate climate, great produce, and romantic vibe for Vietnamese tourists. The climbing was only possible as we traded the upper 80s of the lowlands for the 60s of the mountains.
The next day was 42 miles back down to the coast. An amazing 15 miles of that were downhill through coffee and dragonfruit farms.
It was 36 miles to finish outside of Saigon on Friday; rolling hills along the coast flattening out at the end with strong headwinds. Throughout the tour we dealt with headwinds in pace lines when possible, drafting off each other to ease the strain. I brought a few of us home, several folks jumping on the Jane Train to finish out the ride.
That’s 400 miles complete, with about 400 more to go across Cambodia to Thailand.
We had a rest day in quaint and touristy Hoi An to enjoy the history, shopping, and beach. Several folks had clothes made, which required fittings. Hoi An is renowned for its overnight custom clothing trade, and there are hundreds of tailor shops.
We had a tolerable 28-mile coastal ride on the way to Quy Nhon. Though the humidity dipped into the 65% range, the heat and sun remained high and demanding.
Quy Nhon is a beach town that isn’t a huge tourist resort. It was nice to be somewhere so laid back with wide, sandy shores in a calm bay.
It was a 57-mile ride on the way to Nha Trang. With no turns to navigate on the smooth asphalt, Chi turned us loose. I sped along, enjoying stretching out at my own pace and feeling the miles click by. However, I struggled at the end with the gusty headwinds, hills, and 100+ temps. After lunch, it felt like we were riding in a convection oven. We bused into Nha Trang in a celebratory mood after finishing our longest day.
Rest day in a Russian Riviera
Russians can fly direct from several cities into Nha Trang, where they invest heavily in resort development. There is a large Chinese presence as well. The longest oversea cable car in the world (2+ miles) takes you to Vinpearl Land theme park and resort on a nearby island.
We’re a group of 15 riders and 4 crew: leader Chi, “mechanist” Linh, bus driver Thanh, and truck driver Cho. They work hard to make sure we are always well taken care of.
Typical day: -wake up at 6:00am -hotel breakfast at 7:00am -ride, or bus to ride start, at 7:30am -morning – ride 2-4 segments, 10-12 miles each, with breaks in between -lunch (provided at a local eatery) -afternoon – ride 1-2 legs, bus 1-2 hours to hotel -shower -dinner at 7pm with the group, or head out on your own
Mornings are always a bit of a scramble to fill water bottles, apply sun block, and assemble our various bike bits and bobs.
If our ride segments have turns, Chi leads us at a moderate pace. We stay in a group that ebbs and flows as banter abounds. I’m learning as much about the English-speaking world as I am about Vietnam. For instance, we’ve discovered that we all call a cooler something different: -English – cooler box -Irish – ice box -Australian – esky (a brand that has become the name) -New Zealand – chili bin (though with Jim’s accent it sounds like “chili bun”)
The bus and truck meet us at breaks with cold water, lemonade, fruit, peanuts, cashews, and peanut brittle. What luxury! We regularly enjoy bananas, pineapple, dragon fruit, rambutan, mangosteens, watermelon, and mangoes.
If there are no turns, Chi lets everyone spread out and go at their own pace. Occasionally he will race one of the fitter guys at about 30 mph for a bit, then leave the winded Brit or Kiwi in his dust. Back on the bus, he explains local sights, history, food, the evening plan, and the next day’s itinerary.
Though I never went on a band tour, I have the feeling there are a couple of similarities. We each have claimed permanent bus seats, and by now I have my “nest” arranged. Nearly every day is a new hotel, so having very little luggage is a plus. The hotels are mid-range: comfortable, but not luxurious. Occasionally there is a pool, or along the coast we might be ocean front.
One constant throughout has been the children trilling, “Hello!” Many also hold out hands for a palm slap. They are adorable and add cheer to the hot miles.
Our 35 miles around Ninh Binh were thankfully flat, but lacking in shade. We baked as we admired the limestone karst peaks and the temples and gardens of the Dinh Dynasty’s 10th century capital. The town had few food options, so we ate supper together before heading to the station.
Night Train No, not the 1951 Jimmy Forrest classic, but the overnight rail journey to Hue. The train was surprisingly nice and comfortable! Even so, only about half of us rested well.
Hue It was an easy 10-12 miles around town to the Citadel, Forbidden City, and a royal tomb. A little less jovial today, we downed water at every chance. Spirits revived in the evening as our hydration finally caught up with the past three days of hot miles, and there were hue too many Hue jokes. 🙂
I’m close to drinking a gallon per day now. I’ve never drank so much in my life, and peed so little (we’re all remarking on this phenomenon).
Hai Van (Sea Clouds) Pass The easy day in Hue was a great setup for the ride to Hoi An along rice fields, rivers, and elaborate cemeteries. The first 36 miles were flat, cloudy, and flew by. After lunch we headed up Hai Van pass, 6 miles to 1600 feet. The views were amazing, and my ridemates called me “mental” for enjoying the climbing so much. The 6 miles down the other side to Da Nang were quite fun as well!
Traffic Safety To Westerners it seems like chaos: the lack of lines, seemingly few rules, and almost no traffic lights. Yet it is so much safer for cyclists here than in all of our countries. Drivers are alert and on the defensive, never aggressive. Everyone, and everything including cows and dogs, share the road equally. With no lanes, everyone gracefully swerves and weaves as needed to avoid anything in their path. We are rarely on large roads, if ever, so the traffic we encounter is fairly slow-moving, which also helps.
I made it to Hanoi Saturday just in time to catch the bike tour. Whew! That evening we had the option of a food tour that included some local culture, such as the bizarre attraction of getting up close and personal with the train. Vietnam’s rail lines are very small gauge, so the trains to do not travel very fast, i.e. 48 hours from Hanoi to Saigon by train, or 45 minutes on a plane. However, when you’re standing next to one in motion, it seems fast enough!
The Way to Mai Chau
In Mai Chau, our accommodation was a homestay. All 16 of us shared the top floor of a traditional stilt house. I love the way our amazing leader Chi pronounces the insect our nets protect us from: “mosskweeto.” It was hot and a little noisy; most of us didn’t sleep much. Our group of Aussies, Kiwis, Irish, English, and Americans bonded quickly!
We range in age from 20s to 70s, and everyone is warm, funny, and generous.