Vietnam: Saigon to Nha Trang, exotic flavours
POSTED BY Thamar IN Adventures, Vietnam @ January 5, 2015 - 2:32 pm

June 18th

One last breakfast at Kim's before picking up our bikes from the underground parkade and packing them. It was quite direct to get out of the city, we had to follow the Saigon river (Song Sai Gon) for a bit before making our way across it and onto the direction we intended to travel in. I've found communication a lot harder here, more so than China, so there has been lots of pointing and gesturing. We traveled 75km to Dau Giay which is a small town on our way to Da Lat. There seems to be only 1 motel in this town which is quite pleasant. Tonight’s dinner was rice soup with duck blood gelatin, then some kind of melon salad followed by duck with basil and peanuts. It was a large spread and very tasty!

 

June 19th

I have noticed that when we start cycling in a new country it has been a bit of a physical adjustment. I wonder if it’s the climate. It was a hot day and we were a little tired after yesterday’s ride. It was another busy road and quite a lot more broken up then the day before. There were a few stops today for ice coffee and other drinks. We road 75km today and made it to a small town whose name I cannot remember. There we met a very helpful young lady who helped us settle in. She speaks fairly good English and also helped us to order dinner that evening.

We didn't draw any money today, which might have been my fault. I thought we had enough but turned out that we were 20 000 Dong short for our room rate.

 

June 21st

I scooted off early the next day towards another town in search of an ATM. I was travelling in the direction we were due to travel in that day, so I had no idea how far the next town was or if they had the correct ATM for me to draw money. Fortunately it was only 4km up the road and there was an ATM for me to draw from.

Today it was 45km to the town of Bao Loc, early on in the day there was a steady 12km climb which was a windy road through some thick natural forested area. Really beautiful and at the top of the climb it seemed like we had reached a plateau. Bao Loc is a quaint country town and sits on a slight rise so you have great views of the fields and distant hills.

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On our way through one of the many small towns we passed, the road was very broken up and we were weaving and bouncing all over the show to avoid potholes and puddles. Unfortunately I went into one of these potholes. Suddenly both my front panniers fell off and my front rack was mangled and broken under my wheel. It was really broken properly and there was no way of repairing it. Both brackets had snapped and the 2 bolts on either side of the base of the rack had snapped in 2. What a mess!

After repositioning the panniers I now have all 4 plus the tent on the back rack. Let’s hope that doesn't break.

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The weather is still overcast but notably cooler since we are at 1000m above sea level, so it's quite pleasant. We road 38km over an undulating road from Bao Loc to Di Linh, another small town that was quite similar to the last. Feeling tired today we opted for a shorter distance hoping that tomorrow we would feel stronger for the 80km hop to Da Lat.

 

June 24th

We felt more refreshed this morning and were on the road by 8:30. We bought food for the road the day before in an attempt to save money and time. But we still have to stop for our morning fix of Vietnamese coffee, a good description of this coffee would be that Afrikaans expression - Moer Koffee! It certainly does give you a klap!

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The scenery was much the same - thick forest with winding roads. I had to stop a few times to re-strap my bags, which were all on my back rack. After lunch, and travelling through a few less crowded towns, we came to a cross road. The one road looked like it was going off course according to our map. And the other looked like an express way. We took our chances and road on the express way. It was a gloriously quiet road with a massive should to cycle in and great road surface. We travelled on this road for about 15km before coming to a toll booth. It was there that we spotted the alternative road and possibly the road we should have been on. We made a quick duck to get onto the alternate road and said goodbye to cycling bliss. But as amazing as the express way was we felt we were missing out on all the action of riding through the busy towns.

At this point we had about 12km to Da Lat and the road started to get steeper and windier. Most of the remaining days ride was uphill and we started to tire quickly. The "summit" finally revealed itself in the form of a kiosk and coffee shop, which naturally we stopped at to enjoy a rest and some coffee. From that point it was a gentle few kilometers to the town of Da Lat, which made it 80km for the day. Something else which was a welcome relief to us, is that Da Lat sits at 1500m above sea level, so it cools down in the evenings and is not nearly as humid as the coast.

The beauty of Da Lat lay before us as we came over the last little bump in the road and coasted towards the lake, a central point in Da Lat where we saw loads of people walking/running/cycling and flying kites. There were well manicured lawns, swan paddle boats on the lake and a few restaurants dotted around the shore, which made for quite a romantic setting.

There was no shortage of hotels here, so we were able to find something suitable in no time at all. The room was small with a toilet and a shower rose aimed at the spot where you needed to stand to get wet - a half step from the toilet bowl. The view was great from our top floor "loft". We are on a slight ridge and look down on roof tops and winding little roads from the town below.

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There is a huge open air market which is on every evening. There you can find just about any type of clothing and plenty of food - fresh produce, sea food and other edibles. We had no planed length of stay here in Da Lat but its turning in 4 days so far.

The one day we made our way to visit the "Crazy House". It’s a gallery come guest house and the architecture radically breaks from the norm. You feel like it’s something out of Alice in Wonderland as you get lost in the maze stairways that lead nowhere and walls that look tree roots. Then there is all the quirky artwork and things hanging and placed in the gardens. After that bit of fun it was off to something more serious and stately. It was the Bao Do Palace - "The House", where the Vietnamese royal family used to live in the early 1900's. It's not what you would imagine from a royal house hold, it’s very understated and there are plenty of houses back in South Africa that outshine it from a size and spectacle point of view.

After a late afternoon run around the lake, which is about 6km once around, it was down the road to find dinner. We are spoilt for choice for somewhere to eat although most places seem to have similar dishes, just depends on the price.

Coffee first thing in the morning has been something of a necessary priority and on this particular morning we came across a local spot (locals only). The owner was most hospitable and was asking us questions about where we came from - these are treasured experiences.

 

June 29th

Today we left for Nha Trang (25th). We were plotting the route and weren't sure if we would find anywhere to stay the night along the way as the distance from Da Lat to Nha Trang is 140kms.

We set off at 9am in an ambitious attempt to make the whole distance in one day. It was a pleasant start as we rounded the lake for the last time. The road out of town was narrow and undulating and we thought that because we were at a fairly high elevation, and that Nha trang was at the coast, it was going to be flat or downhill the whole way. Alas it started getting quite hilly but at least the scenery was great - vast hills and valleys of lush natural forest as we passed through a nature conservation area. Lunchtime came and went as we longed for somewhere to find food. Once again we weren't carrying any food for the day. You would think that we would have learnt by now.

Then the downhill revealed itself and boy was it a downhill. We had done 60km by the time we came off the ridge and started to descend. The landscape changed dramatically as we sped down numerous switchbacks towards the flat land at the bottom of this 30km continuous downhill. It was dramatic and breath taking as we let out yells of excitement.

The thrill of the downhill had quailed our hunger pangs for a bit and as luck would have it there was a place to get a bowl of hot Pho(local beef or chicken soup) when the road started to flatten out at the bottom of the hill.

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Feeling a little tired but still pumped from our descent we set off again to make the push to Nha Trang. As we made our through the flat lands and endless rice paddies there was a spectacular sunset with clouds being lit up in orange, pink and red. That certainly gave us a boost as we were on our last legs. It was 6:45pm and with darkness setting in we arrived in Nha Trang, 140km from Da Lat. It was a huge effort from Tham and the elation of making it in one go kept our spirits high.

On our 4th attempt we found a place to stay - Perfume Grass Inn, just a short walk up from the beach. A lovely friendly lady named V (as in Ce la Vie) greeted us and called us to stay. The Inn is simple yet adequate. That night we had dinner at the Veranda restaurant and celebrated with a Siagon Green beer.

Nha Trang is a holiday town, lots of locals, but also a generous helping of foreigners. With plenty of side street vendors, restaurants and a night market, there was loads to see and do.

The next day we joined a group to go on a snorkeling trip, something we've both been wanting to do for a while. We were picked up at 8:45am from the Perfume Grass where we met other people from different hotels. The boat left shortly after we arrived at the harbor for our day trip to some of the surrounding islands. The weather was great and the sea, calm. We stopped at 3 different dive spots where everyone dived in and explored the reefs below. I have fond memories of doing this 4 years ago in Thailand, and this time was just as amazing! There were about 20 of us on the boat and as the lunch was laid out everyone’s mouths began to water. Fortunately there was plenty to go round. It was a truly excellent day out.

There were a few days of relaxation to follow and with the inviting beach about 100m away we spent some time on it. In the evenings, around 5pm when the sun is going down and people are finishing work, the beaches begin to fill up with families and people looking for that swim in the ocean, it’s lovely to see. We've been going for a run around that time and it’s still pretty humid and a swim in the sea is only mildly refreshing.

Back at the night market and we tried something quite different and strange. I'm still not sure what it was, may be rice dough. It’s very jelly like with a faint flavor. Whatever it was I enjoyed this slippery snack. During our time in Nha Trang we found a side street "cafe", literally some plastic chairs and tables on the side of the road and her stand. She made one of the best (indulgent) coffees I've tasted. It was probably more like a mocha coffee with the condense milk but still strong and yummy. She was such a sweet lady and got to know us after we had visited her for the 6th time.

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