Well, today’s the day! We estimate its roughly 290-300KM to Saigon, which should be doable in one day, we think. Both of our bottom end’s have been pretty painful lately due to the number of hours riding, so we’ve taken to starting the morning with a dose of advil to ease the discomfort while riding which of course requires food. Last time we were in this predicament we had some of our “emergency rations.” This time, though, the hotel/guesthouse we’re staying at offered us a complimentary breakfast — they made fresh eggs, had fresh bread and lots of nicely sliced fruit. I tried Marmite for the first time — good god the stuff is awful. Absoultely disgusting. Worse than China’s “stinky tofu”.
As we were packing up the lady at the hotel (whose English was impeccable — a definitely surprise for us) asked where we were headed. I told her our goal was to make it to Ho Chi Minh city today, and she said “no no, too far, need 2 days.” Uh oh. Not a good sign. Hopefully we can prove her wrong, as neither of us was really looking forward to spending another night in a middle-of-nowhere-sketchy-motel.
We got on the road around 9:45AM. We only rode about 200km the day before so were not urgently pressed for gas, so we simply got started It took less than 10 minutes to leave town and shortly after that we were back in the wilderness, driving down the steep mountain that Da Lat is based on. The roads were in pretty reasonable shape on the way down — nothing too remarkable.
We got to the bottom of the mountain and ended up on this really very nice, properly divided 4 lane highway. It felt rather out of place given everything else we’de seen in the country so far. Even stranger, it soon divided into a “cars only” and “motorbikes only” roads (two completely separate roads). Normally we’re actually going faster than the cars on the road (at a whopping 90KM/h), so it might’ve made practical sense to go on the car highway, but given that it’s the last day we didn’t want to get into any unecessary trouble, so we ended up on the bike lane.
Shortly later, about 20KM into the day, we stopped for gas. I was looking at the map at the gas station and realized that the other end of the “car boulevard” was actually the Da Lat airport. It all makes sense now! The wealthy folk land at the airport and get a basically traffic-free ride straight into one of the nicest towns in the country.
Thankfully neither bike was short on oil and we quickly got back on the road. The highways were pretty typical fair — with a mix of rural open highway without much traffic, and towns at regular intervals with tons of traffic (read: dodging semitrucks coming straight for you and forcing us into the dirt, which we got very good at riding in). South Vietnam definitely feels denser than the north — the distance between the towns felt smaller and each town felt larger, though the towns were still pretty typical fair — mechanics, Pho restaurants, tiny stores selling the same soda/tea and unlabeled shantybuildings.
At about 140KM, 1PM we stopped for lunch at — you guessed it, a random tiny Pho place. This place was covered in dogs. At least 10 dogs, most of which looked to be puppies were running around. None of them were particularly clean looking or well groomed. Aside from moan about the heat and how soar our butts were we debated whether or not these dogs were pets, or food. We didn’t have the heart to use the translator to ask, so it’ll remain a mystery for now. By 1:30 we were back on the road with what Google said was 148KM to go.
Somewhere in this last stint we came upon stopped traffic. The road was completely blocked. Half of the road was stopped by a giant flatbed truck with big concrete cylendars on it (presumably some kind of municiple plumbing project) and the other half was a truck whose mirror couldn’t clear the concrete tubes on the flatbed. For reasons we still don’t understand, the truck couldn’t back up, and turn the wheel left and move over 6 inches to clear the flatbed. Instead he simply stood there and all of traffic waited and watched the flatbed crane move each of the cylendars off the flatbed and onto the ground so the truck could pass. What insanity!
At about 50KM outside the city we reached a fork in the road. Things were starting to feel a bit denser and it felt as if we were on the outskirts of the city, which was really an incredible feeling. The map took us in a way we didn’t expect, which turns out to be really nice. For about 25KM we had nothing but straight, 4 line highway with proper dividers (so nobody turns into you) and were able to do a solid 100KM/h without the constant thread of kamikaze-motorbiker or passing-in-oncoming-traffic-18- wheeler-going-to-turn-you-into-pancake.
After the nice highway we knew we were in Saigon. How? Because there was traffic. Not like many motorbikes in my way traffic, like bumper to bumper cars going slowly on a highway traffic. First time we’de seen that on the journey! It was slow going, and we were forced to breath in a lot of diesel fumes, but we eventually made it to the hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. WAHOO!
We dropped all of our stuff in the room and headed back out on the bikes for the last time. We drove into the heart of the city and got to see upclose how different Saigon is from the rest of Vietnam. My first reaction was “this isn’t Vietnam, there’s Fancy Stuff here!”. Mercedes, BMWs, Rolls Royce cars, Starbucks! Oh my.
We had some difficulty finding where to drop off the bikes as Google’s pin for the address was (fairly typically for this part of the world) about 8 blocks off. We did however find it eventually! They did a quick inspection of the bikes and discovered Felix’s broken rear suspension when trying to move the bike by hand. They picked up the rear of the bike and bits of the shock absorber literally fell out. That’s not supposed to happen!
A quick call to Mr. Hung and we got the final bill. Cost for the new wheel and the bike’s suspension: $96. Not too bad all and all. We settled everything, got our deposits back and sat in a taxi back to the hotel. Oh what a feeling to be on four wheels and have air conditioning again! We took a quick dip in the pool to begin the de-stinkification process. Followed by showers (long ones, with lots of soap and scrubbing). We got a few restaurant recommendations from friend’s and headed over to “District one” via taxi. The first restaurant we wanted to go to (Saffron) was actually so full and busy that they told us “sold out for the night!” That’s a new thing.
We tried the sister restaurant (Italian) which only had a 10 minute wait. Still unusual, but we didn’t mind waiting 10 minutes. I’ll spare you most of the dining details, suffice is to say the food was delicious and up there as one of the best Italian restaurants we’ve ever been to. Including a giant 2 foot wheel of parmasean that had its top layer scraped off and then Felix’s pasta literally coated in the fresh stuff. Total bill was $35 a person, including appetizers and wine. Expensive for Vietnam, but very cheap for the quality anywhere else in the world!
Made it back to the hotel and we’re both promptly ready to pass out after a long Journey!
Stay tuned for the epilogue, including some data about our trip and retrospectives!