Dalat to Nha Trang
Distance: 160 km
The oil leak worried me but I knew that today’s ride would mostly be downhill towards the coast and as long as it doesn’t get any worse we should be fine. I also had a tube of liquid gasket maker with me and at worst case, I could do a repair if needed in Nha Trang.
Before checkout, we rode up the hills to the outskirt of the city and took the cable car to a Monastery on the other side of the valley. The Thien Vien Truc Lam Monastery is known for its amazing gardens full of landscaped shrubs in animal form. It also offers a magnificent view of the dams and farmlands below. We figured as it’s still early (and we’re at 2000m) it won’t be very warm but damn we nearly cooked in our riding kit!
I’ve heard about the road from Dalat to Nha Trang and also remember seeing it featured in the Top Gear Special a few years back. Although those guys had it bad and had to endure torrential rain - for some reason they only made it to Nha Trang after nightfall as well! ???
It truly is a stunning road with wonderful scenery and by a long stretch the best leg of the trip so far. The landscape shifts from rocky outcroppings to the highland desert on winding, made-for-touring-bike roads.
The first 15km or so from Dalat is a bit gravely and bumpy but it opens up after that into a beautiful ride. The road is only about 5 years old and although there is the odd bus it’s not nearly as crowded as the highway route and you mostly only see the odd scooter.
As we came down in altitude we could feel the air warming up – the bike kept running nicely and we kept going without any drama. We stopped for a drink in a small village about an hour from Nha Trang. The heat was only barely durable when moving and we were looking forward to getting back to the coast.
Nha Trang is Vietnam’s most famous seaside resort-town. It's more lively and urban in character than other beach destinations like Mui Ne and Phu Quoc. It's also the scuba diving centre of Vietnam. It has developed into a popular destination for international tourists, attracting large numbers of backpackers, as well as more affluent travellers on the Southeast Asia circuit.
One thing that you notice immediately is that especially in the southern part of town where most of the tourist infrastructure is shop signs are in Russian as well as Vietnamese. Almost all restaurants have menus in Russian and we found Russian speaking guides at all the dive shops and travel centres. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Russians outnumber other tourists by 4:1 Even the locals will open a sales pitch with some Russian lines! It’s probably pretty good for the local economy but sadly ruins the feel of the place a bit. (We later learned that there are four direct flights a day to Nha Trang from Russia.)
It’s also a place that can be a bit hard on those that consume too much alcohol and frequent the late-night bars. Most of the city shuts down by 10 pm and all the opportunists and thieves go where the tourist money is. A common tactic is apparently for beautiful women to rub up against you while relieving you of your possessions on the sly. Not that we had any of these problems though as by day, the city has plenty of charm and most people are very friendly.
We stayed for 2 nights in a great little hotel down an alley right next to the foreshore promenade area called City Lights for $18 (double room en-suite Breakfast included).
Just down the road we found dozens of dive shops and booked ourselves for a double-tank dive the next morning. Close off-shore from Nha Trang sit a series of islands that offer decent diving and snorkelling, easily accessible by day trip. The city has loads of dive shops, making for fierce competition and great value. We were extremely impressed with the quality of the trip and for a total of $60 per person (gear, dive guide, transport, meals and drinks included) it was an outright bargain.
As can be expected fish life is sparse due to decades of overfishing but most diving is around Hon Mun Island Marine Park which offers protected waters which helped tremendously to stimulate sea life. We were lucky with weather conditions – visibility was up to 30m and the coral is some of the best I’ve ever seen.
After our dive, we contemplated our next move. In theory, it’s possible to ride from Nha Trang to Hoi An in one day but it’s a 500km slog on the national highway (A1); It will take the best part of 12 hours and will be a constant battle for survival. It was a terrible idea and never part of the plan.
The alternative was to head inland from Tuy Hoa and ride via Pleiku and Kon Tum – effectively stretching the distance to just under 700km. Although this was the original plan the knowledge from the last weeks’ riding has taught us it would take at least 2 days and in all likelihood 3.
We hatched a scheme to book ourselves onto an overnight train to Danang instead and hopefully convince them to load our bike on the same train. It was optimistic but worth a shot and we swung past the station. Language proved to be a major stumbling block but eventually, we walked away with 2 tickets for the following nights' train.
There were no sleepers left and we had to settle for “air-conditioned soft-seats” - how bad could it be? We had to go past the Goods Platform to reserve a space for the bike which surprisingly went without a hitch. Very chuffed we treated ourselves to some amazing Bun Thit Nuong at the night market. It literally means "grilled meat on noodles" and is a popular Vietnamese cold rice vermicelli noodle dish topped with grilled pork, fresh herbs, vegetables roasted peanuts and dressed in a nuoc cham sauce. You will only find it in the South of Vietnam by this name but there are similar dishes in the North.
Our last day in Nha Trang we spent sleeping late (bliss!) and going for an early lunch after which we went to drop off the bike at the train station for ‘packing’.
The exchange with the Goods Master went something like this:
“We bring moto to put on train tonight”
“Okay but cannot tonight”
“Cannot put moto on the train tonight”
“But we booked space yesterday – here is the ticket”
“Sorry we cannot”
“But we booked space!”
“Sorry cannot – no space”
“Sorry but we put moto on next train – get to Danang 2 days later”
“No, we booked space for train tonight!”
“Yes you can”
“YES YOU CAN”
“YES YOU CAN”
“Sorry… okay wait here”
(5 minutes later)
“Okay we put moto on the train tonight”
I watched them wrap the bike in cardboard and stuck a waybill on it before finally feeling semi-certain that the bike might actually make it. We still didn’t REALLY know for certain though as they could’ve told us anything to get rid of us at that moment and there was no guarantee that our bike would arrive in Danang with us.
Nevertheless, crisis averted, for now, we took a cab to Thap Ba Hot Springs which was a fun place to get dirty in a mud bath!
There are loads of mineral water baths and swimming pools to hang out at after a good mud soak. Great place to relax and spend an afternoon for as little as $7 per person. Highly recommended. They also have a shuttle service which will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel for around 60000VD.