We woke up in Dalat at 5am and the monsoon was still strong so we decided to sleep a couple more hours hoping the rain would calm down in the meanwhile. Two hours later the sky was still grey and was promising more rain to come but we decided to take advantage of the time we had for the moment. We had breakfast and continued our journey South towards Bao Loc, a place we knew nothing about but seemed to be the largest inland city in between Dalat and Ho Chi Minh.
Right outside of Dalat we visited some famous waterfalls, there we found that one of the attractions was a local man dressed up as a Native American Indian chief and the Chinese and Japanese tourists were going crazy having their pictures taken with him and his fake horse. It was so funny and random that I thought I needed to mention it.
Soon after we left the Dalat area the rain started again but with our waterproof jackets on we kept going. We saw many Vietnamese people wearing a plastic poncho against the monsoon so when the rain intensified and Silvia’s trousers started getting a bit too wet we stopped to a shop in the middle of nowhere to buy one for her (I had some over-trousers bought for a biology field trip in my second year at Uni).
Riding under the rain was not the most smooth nor safe experience; our hands were hurting, we were riding on wet roads (they were not great roads to start with to be fair) with motorcycles in a really bad state and -it occurred to me only as I am writing this blog- had no type of insurance whatsoever, but we were excited by this whole experience and felt tough enough to go on, until the monsoon became so strong that all the locals riding on the roads started to disappear looking for shelter.
At that point we thought it would have been wiser to do the same so we found one of the usual random “cafe” scattered on the roads with little or no apparent criteria, sometimes far away from anything.
We sat down and had some water and vietnamese snacks (one was a sort of tiny cake in the shape of a frog), the monsoon went on for almost two hours, but to sit there with a roof over our heads and observe was so peaceful and enjoyable that we didn’t feel bored at all.
When the weather finally calmed down we were ready to go; besides the road there were big and green fields or small “forests” and even with the sun hiding behind a thick layer of clouds, everything looked very beautiful and majestic in a way.
We rode to a very small town called Di Linh to have lunch and after that we decided to go visit the mechanic once again as Silvia’s front wheel had been wobbling a bit too much for the whole morning.
And in case you were wondering: yes we had at least one motorcycle problem per day, which by the end of the trip made us quite informed on how to deal with that kind of vehicle and engine, as being both motorcycle enthusiasts, we would always carefully watch to try learn from the people fixing our bikes.
We are not sure how but it appeared that the wheel bearing had too much space so it was moving, and some other washers and small pieces where missing from inside the wheel. After many attempts to find the right size washers to add in and many failed tests, the Honda-authorised mechanic came up with the most creative solution we had seen so far: he cut open a CocaCola can and used it to fill the space between the bearing and the inside of the wheel. Definitely not the ideal solution as the friction would have made the piece of can melt and made a proper intervention later on a lot harder to do, but that’s what we had, we only needed to hope everything would have been okay for another day; just the time to get to HCM City safely.
After this long mechanical intervention we were finally able to continue our journey to Bao Loc, it kept raining every once in a while and after a couple of hours we arrived. We decided to try find a hotel but it turned out to be a lot harder than we thought; we went towards what seemed to be the city centre hoping to find some useful information. NO ONE there spoke English at all, then we noticed a white-looking man sitting in a telephony shop, we thought we had a good chance he would be able to communicate in English so went to speak to him: turned out he was Russian and could in fact speak English; he owned the shop and seemed extremely puzzled as to why we were in Bao Loc.
When we asked him if there was any tourist information centre around he laughed and said: “why would a tourist ever come here?!”.
Seemed like we were off the usual tourist beaten track, which made us feel a bit gassed and adventurous.
After a lot of searching we finally found a hotel for the night; left our backpacks there and went for a little exploration tour back to the centre where we bought some fantastic deep fried vietnamese “doughnuts”, I could have eaten a hundred of them!!
We then headed towards the outer part of the town and found a huge covered market that was about to close, where everyone seemed to be very amused by our presence. We took a quick walk and look around and bought some gifts to bring back home. Later on we went back to the centre and had some delicious vietnamese coffee and bought two cigarettes (two single cigarettes, which I found quite amusing).
We went to sleep quite early as we wanted to be able to continue our riding from the early hours to make sure we would ride to HCM City during daylight, and considered the weather it could have taken a bit longer than the 6-7 hours predicted by our hotel’s receptionist.
We woke up at 5am and could hear the monsoon outside being so violent and loud that it was truly terrifying.
We couldn’t have made it with this weather and our flight from HCM was going to be the following day so we started to get somewhat stressed out: at the reception we asked for information about buses- the woman working there spoke a very poor english- so after some hilarious misunderstandings, drawings, a little help from google translator and a sort of silent communication in between the two who spoke the least English (Silvia and the receptionist), we managed to book two seats on a sleeper bus (that was travelling by day this time).
We were picked up before 8am by the bus and this time we were the only tourists on board, the landscapes outside our windows were very beautiful and it was such a shame we had to travel by bus instead of riding our motorcycles, especially considered that after a couple of hours of travelling in the heavy rain, the sun came out (and stayed out).
We arrived in HCM in the early afternoon and were suddenly a bit lost. We did not have a detailed map of the city and it was utter chaos, the traffic was unbelievable, the most frenetic we had seen so far and as we later found out the urban conglomerate was enormous (roughly a third bigger than Greater London). We were in one of the central districts (out of 24 total) and the hotel we had booked from back home was in one of the outer ones, so we found a man with a scooter that agreed to show us the way; it took us over 40 minutes to get to our destination and on our way we had the chance to see how strange Ho Chi Minh was compared to the cities we knew: many buildings seemed to be put together in a random way, there was a motorway going through the city and what I found the strangest was the fact the airport was INSIDE the city, more central than our hotel. All of those things seemed to testify how the development of the urban area had a wild boom that no one really managed, resulting in a really interesting scenario, disorientating and fascinating at the same time.
We checked in and left our luggage at the hotel and headed back to our bikes thinking the man who escorted us would be waiting to take us back to the centre and for a tip, but he wasn’t there, so we found our way back, risking our lives a few times and getting lost once.
When we arrived in one of the central districts we started asking around where to sell our motorbikes until we found a man who asked us to follow him. We rode for 15 minutes trying to keep up with him (I don’t ride slow and tend to be more reckless than my parents and friends would like me to be, but this man was speeding like a crazy, slaloming dangerously in between cars) until we arrived to a garage and some men examined our motorcycles, after bargaining they were still offering us very little so we decided to try elsewhere and found and old man who said he would give us 200USD, not great since we paid $250 each but it didn’t seem like we were going to get any better deal so we accepted. The man cam back after 10 minutes with $190, the fact he had to lie to us was very annoying but we decided to let it go and enjoy the rest of our day.
It was evening already so we spent the rest of our time wandering through markets spending our last Vietnamese Dongs and bargaining to our best abilities, looking (in vain) for cultural landmarks that were signalled on the map and finally stopped for a Vietnamese BBQ where the grill was the table itself (that was really nice and the food we had was tasty).
The city was somewhat overwhelming and we were tired, so I took very few pictures (I regret it a bit).
The following morning we walked around the area of our hotel and it was surprising how in front of the hotel, with the urban motorway and the big buildings it felt like a metropolis, whereas in the back streets, where the buildings were lower and the walls were empty it felt like we were in a small rural town, the shape of the buildings reminded me of the towns by the sea in Greece or Southern Italy.
After lunch we ordered a taxi and headed to the airport, towards the centre of the city.
It’s hard to find an appropriate way to end this series as it has been an amazing journey, I still feel like with this blog I wasn’t really able to fully explain everything we had seen and learned but I tried and I hope it was entertaining enough to read.
Vietnam is beautiful and I know I will go back someday to explore the areas we had to leave out because of the little time.
Thank you all for making it this far in reading my blog entries!
Thanks to Silvia for being the best travel companion I could have asked for.