Friday, March 15th, 2013 – Bao Loc to Da Lat

Distance travelled today 134 kilometres – Total distance travelled 660 kilometres

The day started pleasantly in our really nice room, retrospectively, probably the nicest place we stayed in. The Memories Hotel was, as I mentioned, at the very top of a hill and we had a truly spectacular view of the cloud filled valleys below from our window.

As the sun came out and the clouds burned away, the same view became, if anything, even more breathtaking.

When I was starting to write about today, David said nothing special had happened. By this, I presumed he meant that no injuries or other similar stressful experiences had occurred. If you listened to him, you would think we had a boring day. That is not true, of course, there were experiences.

For instance, before we even left the hotel parking, David found out that we had a completely flat tyre on the back wheel. That was quite strange because it had definitely not been flat when we arrived the previous evening. Luckily, there was a repair shop only about a hundred metres away, so David and the bell-boy pushed Minh across the road. Because the little motorcycles are so numerous, everybody knows how to fix them. The wheel was removed, the puncture was located, a patch was applied, the tyre was re-inflated and the wheel was put back on. All that took place in almost less time that it took to write all that down.

We waited a few nervous minutes to be certain that the air was staying in the tyre and then we set off. It was quite windy on the way and, at altitude, although it was not exactly cold, it certainly was not very warm either.

The road was unusually good, but often had very steep inclines. This kept our speed down to walking pace when climbing, but also when descending too as we were heavily laden and the brakes, whilst adequate, were not exactly good. At least we could enjoy the scenic landscape which was certainly very beautiful. From time to time, there were brief showers of rain, but they hardly seemed to really wet the road.

I was still at the point where other road users fascinated me. The strange uses to which a humble moped could be put continued to surprise me, sometimes I could not even work out quite what that use was !

I was also amazed by how overloaded a lot of the other vehicles seemed to be. Still, they were the few things we could actually overtake !

I think it is fair to say it was not too long before we were both suffering again, principally at what a scientist might call the nexus-point between our bodies and the saddle. I had really grown to love the Vietnamese iced-coffee. It was basically a mega-strong expresso – with a HUGE amount of sugar crushed directly from raw cane with a special device. When you have had a “sugar-hit” like that, nothing can possibly feel as bad as it did !

At one point, we seemed to be in an area where the rice harvest had recently finished and some other climbing plants had been planted. There was a lot of dust from the dry paddies and I was glad of the advice we had been given at the very start that we should wear a mask whilst riding !

According to our trusty “Lonely Planet”, there were two waterfalls along that stretch of road and we found one of them. It was called Pongour Falls and it really was lovely. It also provided a restful interlude to our suffering rear-ends. There was also a lovely little temple building set in a lake. We walked for a bit and soothed our spirits with the restful sounds of cascading water.

We also enjoyed some nice coconut milk. The ground was no longer wet at all and it had stopped raining completely.

We drove through an area of coffee plantations and could see the workers picking the beans. Many buildings had piles of drying coffee beans piled in front of them.

Some of our team may have dismissed it, but I hold to fact that meeting arrogant police face-to-face is always quite disturbing. Not long after leaving Pongour, we came upon two uniformed Vietnamese policemen. They were on a large motorcycle on the other side of the road and equipped with an entire arsenal of lights and a large baton. They waved their baton wildly at us, appearing to gesture from the road into the field. We were a little afraid that we had, once again, blundered onto a road forbidden to motorcycles, but we did not want to ride in the field. They were talking to us, which sounded more like muttering, but it was quite clear to all of us that we did not understand a single word. Rather surprisingly, they seemed to give up and rode away, disappearing as quickly as they had appeared. Excitement over. Just to be on the safe side we did, nonetheless, leave the main road at the next available exit.

The road forming the last leg of the journey to Da Lat was called “Deo Something” and “Deo” has the meaning of a road winding steeply uphill. At times we were hardly moving at all. As usual, large golden statues of Buddha watched our snail-like progress from the hillsides. Even on the rare flatter sections we could scarcely overtake the cows that were grazing by the road !

When we finally came to the crest of the long serpentine it had taken us most of the afternoon to climb, the city was spread out in the valley below. It was a little oasis in the mountains where rumour has it that the Viet Cong leaders partied and planned the war in some villas while the Americans were doing exactly the same in villas down the block. Whatever the truth, Da Lat was never attacked by either side and was peacefully occupied by the communists at the end of the war in 1975.

Despite the nominal change of regime, the top people always need somewhere to go and the French Colonial atmosphere persisted. Da Lat seemed, to us, almost like an independent State in the heart of communist Vietnam. The Vietnamese people who can afford to live in the elegant villas there must be really lucky indeed.

We wanted to stay in the Pink House hotel. It had good reviews and had a name significant to us for domestic business reasons. Sadly, the Pink House was fully occupied, but they immediately directed us across the street to a place that was “a little cheaper“. Strictly speaking, it cost a dollar less, or just ten dollars for a night. It had a hot shower (we tried it as soon as we got in the room and it was glorious) and the internet, which, apart from a bed, was all we needed. For security, they allowed us to park Minh inside the reception area ….

We walked to the town for dinner, but David was not very happy. He does not like taking pain killers and had tried to go all day without any, but his injuries from our crash in the Delta were still hurting him badly. In the end he gave up and took the pills. We thought we would catch a taxi on the way and be taken to any restaurant the driver decided. But, before we had gone very far, a small Japanese restaurant that we noticed, called Ichi, really appealed to us, so we just went in. We had not researched anything and we definitely got very lucky. The first positive was that local Japanese expats were sitting there (we believe that when real Japanese eat in a Japanese restaurant, it is an unmistakable sign of quality). We sat at the bar and watched the preparation of the food right in front of our eyes. This is half of the whole experience and, done properly, it is an art form in itself. The food was simply superb and, in addition, there was a really nice atmosphere about the whole place.

David is, to be fair, not brilliant with chopsticks even at the best of times and, with his bad hand, he had me in tears of laughter with his exhibition of how not to eat with them. David insisted that I add here that his chopstick “exhibition” was entirely the result of his hand injury. Believe who you want to. His hand was blue and swollen, but he was lucky he did not have to eat all his food off of the floor !

Back in our hotel, David, as usual, fell asleep immediately, but he soon woke up again and sighed because everything was hurting. I had searched the internet for basic information on the next part of our route and we took the opportunity to discuss it so we could decide. Of course, we both voted in favour of my proposal.