Mui Ne to Da Lat
Distance: 200 km
We knew that the next leg would take us to almost 2000 m above sea level and considering the slow progress of the previous leg the thought of hills made me very nervous.
If you’ve ever ridden a 125cc bike before you would know that even under the best circumstances it’s not going to win any races. Now chuck two people on the back along with luggage and add a knock-off Chinese carburettor (long story) to the mix and it sure as hell won’t get any better. Now: ride uphill – for a few hundred kilometres.
So we got up early to get going – too early for any breakfast places to be open. Thirty minutes down the road we found a small café opposite a college and sat down next to the youngsters for ca phe sua da and some sweet vetkoek -like bread.
Vietnamese coffee proved to be something really special unlike in most other Asian countries.
Coffee was introduced into Vietnam by French colonists in the late 19th century and Vietnam quickly became a strong exporter of coffee – currently only second to Brazil. Because of limitations on the availability of fresh milk, the French and Vietnamese began to use sweetened condensed milk with a dark roast coffee.
The cheaper beans were usually a Robusta variety and to provide more flavour they would be roasted very dark. This strong roast is usually individually brewed with a small metal French drip filter (cà phê phin) into a cup containing about a quarter to a half as much sweetened condensed milk (then stirred and poured over ice for the iced-coffee version).
You can find coffee like this almost anywhere even at a small roadside shop. The cheapest we have found it was 10 000 VD a cup with the average about 15 000 VD (The Vietnamese Dong is roughly 2000 to the ZAR at the time of writing - about 24000 to the USD). Suffice to say we came home with a handful of drip filters and a suitcase of coffee!
The road from Phan Tiet to Dalat is truly amazing and after you go inland from the sea it travels through green farmlands then onto the mountains as the road starts narrowing - keep climbing and eventually it becomes tight and twisty.
It’s a heavenly drive with little traffic and breath-taking scenery. The thick jungle almost spilling over the road in places. We couldn’t help but think about what it must have been like trying to wage a war here on foot.
Careful to make the same mistake again we stopped in good time for lunch in a medium-sized town. Com Ga (chicken rice) is a staple along with Pho (noodle soup) and a popular lunch amongst locals. It’s as close as you will get to fast-food as it flies out of the kitchen. Served with the most delicious and delicate fish-sauce it makes for a great meal.
As we got closer to Dalat the larger road from Saigon joined in and we entered a never-ending pine forest. The air was noticeably cooler - a huge relief. I took a wrong turn though and had to strain poor Jerry up some ridiculously steep and narrow alleys.
When we finally stopped I could smell oil burning off the exhaust header. There was a slight oil bleed at the valve cover and escaping oil was sizzling onto the hot motor. Oops.
Dalat was originally the playground of the French who built villas in the clear mountain air to escape the heat and humidity of the coast and of Saigon. It’s one of the more beautiful cities in Vietnam, but very touristy. We stayed at the Gold Night Hotel at $18 for a nice big en-suite room (breakfast included) right near the market.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the market area and wandered around the lake near the city centre. After dark, all the locals put on jerseys and beanies and we joined them sampling delicacies from food stalls at the night market.