I started in Thủ Dầu Một, a smallish city about 2 hours north of Ho Chi Minh. From this city it’s about 300km farther north to the mountain town of Đà Lạt. 300km in Vietnam is a solid day’s ride, especially on my little 100cc Honda. It wasn’t the longest day on this trip, but it was probably the most treacherous, filled with manic traffic spraying smoke and dust. Overall, it’s a rather unpleasant trip, especially on a bike.
Coming out of Thủ Dầu Một, I passed Cát Tiên national park, which is quiet and quite pleasant. Some time was wasted here.
The main part of the trip was a real drag. I won’t bore you with a description except to say there’s nothing remarkable to see – a single-lane road, lots of dusty hills. I didn’t bust out my camera at all. Closer to Đà Lạt, a proper highway begins. It’s only for cars, buses and trucks, which should leave the old road free for bikers. Unfortunately, a lot of trucks still take it, probably to avoid the tolls. Tolls are about 10-15 thousand dong, which is about 50 cents US.
Trucks and buses are the biggest threat to safety and the cause of most unpleasantness on the road in Vietnam. Some places here are a true pleasure to drive in, while some come close to what hell must be like. It’s trucks and bus liners that do this. They’re loud and usually try to clear paths in traffic by sound pressure alone. They race downhill and crawl slowly uphill. Some produce extraordinary amounts of smoke, which is black and sticky and hangs in the air without dispersing. Their weight and crazy speeds tear up the roads and make it all the more dangerous.
It’s often said that truck drivers are all on amphetamines, and it would surprise me none if that were true. That’s why my number-one tip for surviving on the road is KEEP CLEAR OF THE BIG VEHICLES. Avoid roads that they travel on. Scooters may kill you, but there’s no such uncertainty with trucks. If they catch you, you will die.
I think you get the point. Anyway, I was relieved when the ascent into Đà Lạt began. The city is about 1500m up, and the drive up the hill takes about an hour and a half, at least for me. By this time the sun had already sunk close to the horizon, and the road was getting quieter. It was windy and dark, and the higher I went, the less air went into my engine.
Eventually I made it in, and found my ‘hotel.’ There is a lot to eat in Đà Lạt, which is lucky because I was starving.
A day like this isn’t a great way to start a trip. However, I survived, along with all my stuff. It was the hardest day of the journey, and it was behind me.