After visiting the tunnels and skipping some parts as it is quite a long visit, we paid for our room and hopped on our trikes to start heading to Saigon. Tonight we are staying somewhere near the airport, not in the centre, as my friend Thu lives there and she has invited us tomorrow to have lunch with her family at her house. Her mother will cook for us and other relatives.
We were quite fast today, averaging 20km/h, probably faster if it wasn’t for the traffic lights of Saigon. The roads near Cu Chi were narrow and full of bus tours. It was incredibly hot. Now we can remember why we decided to skip the Delta some years ago and stay 2 weeks in Saigon.
As the day went by, the sky got cloudier, with some threatening grey clouds. This also meant that it was not so hot, which is good.
Tân Bình is a quiet neighbourhood (if “quiet” exists in Vietnam) with lots of small shops and businesses. We are not very happy with the guesthouse we booked. Our room is extremely small, with a very thin window with a view of nothing, and… ants!
We went out to have some smoothies and take a photo as the “We made it!” end-of-the-trip image.
…and finally, after a nice lunch with Thu’s family, we made it to the city centre of Saigon. It was a smooth ride (as smooth as crazy Vietnamese traffic can be) from Tân Bình to the border between District 1 and 2. We always stay in the same area in Saigon. We will now spend 2 weeks here in order to gain back all the kilos we lost sweating in the mountains.
The idea today was to find some accommodation near the Cu Chi tunnels so we can visit them tomorrow morning, Saturday, before cycling to Saigon. The last time we were in Cu Chi, Steve did not have time to visit them so we came back.
This morning at the hotel we found out that the staff had been riding our trikes around the reception. And it is supposed to be a serious hotel! Oh, Vietnam…
The ride from Tây Ninh to Cu Chi is not exciting. It basically follows a busy road with not much to see. We stop a few times for a smoothie. We had some problems with the Airbnb we had booked. Apparently the location is wrong and the room is in the south of Saigon, nowhere near here. The owner kept promising to cancel our booking but he never did and kept giving us lots of excuses. Finally I had to call Airbnb and report that I could not access the room as the location was wrong and the host was unresponsive. Airbnb cancelled it and I got a full refund.
After several attempts, we ended up sleeping at the guesthouse next to the tunnels. Apparently the tunnel complex has its own guesthouse for visitors. It is quite old, run-down and dirty but it will do for a night.
The tunnel complex has a restaurant. They (oddly) play Serbian music, not sure why… and they also close very early (6 pm) so we have some sort of late lunch with lots of beer.
Today we are doing 71 again, but tomorrow we will take a rest day in Tây Ninh, so we will have time to recover. It was very flat again, with no hills.
Before starting, we had breakfast at a vegetarian restaurant near the guesthouse. The food was delicious and we drank soy milk. It is not very common in Vietnam.
My trike´s pedals had come loose again so I needed to fix them before starting to ride. Only one pedal worked. I could still use my trike, but it was very uncomfortable and slow. And the corresponding leg would get tired very soon if it had to do all the effort. So we asked at a bike shop if they could fix it. The owner was not there. The shop was open but there was no one there. Finally someone came but said he could not fix it because he would need the specific part. Luckily we then went to a motorbike repair shop and they weld it together so we could start our journey.
Today’s route went through the forest. Apparently the government is planting a lot of trees here. So you have these roads through the forest, with rows and rows of perfectly arranged trees. We were chased by several dogs too. Dogs don’t like trikes.
As we were getting closer to Tây Ninh, we started seeing colourful pagodas. They have a unique style and they apparently belong to a different branch of Buddhism based in Tây Ninh. We also saw the so-called Black Mountain, which stands out because it’s the only mountain in a totally flat area.
Our hotel tonight, where we will stay 2 nights, is quite posh. The restaurant is not bad and they have an upstairs cafe with a view over the whole city and the Black Mountain.
Rest day in Tây Ninh. We want to visit the “Holy See” of Tây Ninh, which is the centre of the Cao đài religion. We take a taxi from the hotel as our trikes need to rest today.
The Holy See is full of tourists, mainly Vietnamese who follow the religion. You have to leave your shoes outside and enter through the side door. It is very beautiful inside. Lots of colours and symbols. We don’t understand much as we did not look into it before and there are no guides. The temple has some monkeys wandering around. This is the first time I saw a monkey in Vietnam.
After the visit, we call the same taxi driver, who had given us his phone in case we needed a taxi again. We ask a woman at a cafe to call him. She doesn’t seem too happy about us using her as a phone but she calls him after all. Then we go to a restaurant we found on TripAdvisor. It is some sort of cafe in an alley that does food. We have macaroni (núi) with beef, similar to phở. The staff is friendly.
Today is Thursday so we spend the evening working in our posh room.
Long way today, but it was mainly downhill and then flat. The earth is still red here, but we did not get “powdered” today. It was very hot again, but our speed (we averaged 21 km/h) gave us a constant air flow, unlike yesterday.
We first stopped at a cafe made out of beer and soda cans. It was impressive. I stopped there because it looked cute. Steve took a while to arrive, so I left my trike next to the road so he could see it. The cafe was run by an old man who I assume was an avid Communist as he thought my flag was Cuban (it has a star on a triangle, hence the confusion), so he was trying to explain that he met Fidel Castro in person when he visited Vietnam many years ago.
I only realised that he must have been telling me this because of the flag when I was riding my trike afterwards. It was a funny situation. The cafe had a mural of Vietnam in the shape of a tree, where the Mekong Delta had roots. He started singing karaoke while we were having a drink there. He was a very friendly man.
After that, we had a long downhill into the city of Đồng Xoài. We went very fast and overtook several scooters. Đồng Xoài was just a regular city with nothing worth visiting. The name means “mango orchards” but we did not see any.
We stopped at a place next to the road with some plastic chairs that seemed to have coconuts. It was run by a family with kids. They were very friendly and asked questions about our trip. They were surprised by our trikes.
Near Chơn Thành, we saw some Khmer temples. They had words in the Khmer alphabet. They look so different from Vietnamese pagodas you can always spot them. This area of Vietnam around Tây Ninh has an important Khmer minority.
In Chơn Thành, Steve was very tired. He took a long time to arrive. It’s very hot and a long way today. We took some time to find a guesthouse. Finally we found a basic one. It looked like the place where people have love affairs. The shower did not work. We had to use another room’s shower, which did not have hot water. No toilet paper either.
Today we are doing 41 km to the next large town at the edge of the national park, Đức Liễu. Since there is no Google Street View in Vietnam, we did not know that part of the route was not paved and indeed in a quite poor state.
There were no shops or anything during most of the route, so we had to keep pedalling. The road had this reddish fine sand which covered all our panniers and clothes. When we reached our destination, we looked like we had been dipped in chili powder!
As we arrived in Đức Liễu, we stopped for some Saigon beer. We lost a lot of liquid through sweat today. The owner, an old woman, was happy to speak Vietnamese with me. She had lots of questions and was surprised by our long and challenging trip. They had a cute little cat.
Then we found a guesthouse near there. Basic room with air conditioning, run by a family. The town has a market by the road with lots of shops and food stalls. I bought lots of things and made some sushi at the guesthouse. Today I’m not very busy with work.
Today was a very hot day. In general it’s very hot in the South, but today it was very sunny with no clouds at all, so we sweated buckets every time we stopped. Although we only did 36 km, we had to stop quite a lot because of the extreme heat.
The road was quiet, as it’s used mainly by locals or people who visit the Cát Tiên park. We went through many rice fields. It was a very “green” day: the dark green of the mountains and the light green of the rice fields.
We stopped mid way at a beautiful restaurant. The restaurant had lots of little huts in a garden. Every hut has a wooden table so customers have some privacy. We sat on a big table in the main room of the restaurant. We had fried noodles with beef, some slightly boiled egg with a weird sauce, and boiled okra. It was a little expensive, but you pay for the garden. The food was very good though.
We stopped again before arriving to Cát Tiên town. The owners and customers were very friendly and they had two very hungry dogs who loved the sausages I threw at them.
Cát Tiên is just a linear town (structured along the road). Our room tonight is the usual rural room with no air conditioning and basic bathroom. We took a nap and woke up hot. Then we went downstairs to some sort of wanna-be-modern cafe and had mock blue cocktails. The owner was from the North and I had problems to understand much of what he was saying.
My trike pedals had come loose again and I asked several places, who could not fix them, but finally someone managed to adjust it (it lasted me for two days).
Today we’re going from Bảo Lộc to Ma Đa Gui. We left our nice hotel where we have spent the last 2 nights.
I could say “what we hadn’t expected…” but we did expect an incredibly long and fast downhill, as we always prepare next day’s route and see the elevation. But it was fun to confirm it.
After the long downhill came a small pass, called “the Banana Pass” in Vietnamese, but it was nothing. We are so used to climbing that this was nothing for us.
Right before the “Banana Pass” was a tourist resort called Madagui Tourist Resort. We decided to go and ask the price for one night, but the cheapest they had was an 80-something-euro room. What? Maybe not.
Finally we got to Ma Đa Gui. We spent like 40 minutes looking for accommodation because we were trying to find a room with a fridge. None had a fridge. Macià tried to ask for a fridge in Vietnamese, but people don’t listen, they think you are speaking English and just say “yes” without knowing what you’ve asked.
Finally, we found a place with a fridge and a reasonable price. We found a cake shop in the main street and decided to buy some cake. It is horrible! It tastes of plastic and colourant. We ate some but threw the rest.
There´s not much in Ma Đa Gui in terms of restaurants. I was trying to find something that is not the usual phở or bún, something like fried sweet potato or roasted tapioca but could not find anything.
New highest speed today, 59.9 km/h, totally stable, felt good, but only possible on a good road surface!
Today was all ups and downs again, but we made good time. Coming down from the mountains has improved the weather, it is now hot and sunny all day, so we need to slap on the sun cream again.
As usual, we had breakfast after about 2 hours of cycling, in a small roadside place where they were very friendly, and once again they were impressed by Matt’s Vietnamese!
Having spent Tet in the coffee capital of Vietnam, we are now heading towards the tea capital, Bao Loc. The roads are now lined with fields of tea plants, all neatly trimmed, ready for the new growth in the ‘spring’. Actually they do not have 4 seasons here in the south, just 2, wet and dry. The temperature usually stays around the same all year, but from about mid November to June it’s the dry season, the rest of the time it rains!
Tonight’s hotel was a pleasant surprise, a large room with a seating area as well as the sleeping area, but we did pay a lot for it, 19 Euros, (the room we had last night was 8 Euros).
When we arrive in these bigger towns we tend to look for sushi or pizza, as spicy noodles does get a bit tiring after a few months, and tonight we found a place that looked very good, but there must have been something in my meaty pizza that didn’t like me as I have had a serious attack of food poisoning!!!
But, at least it helps with losing weight, since we started I have lost over 7 kg, and now when I stand up my shorts fall down! (just as well I have a spare belt!).
After spending the weekend in Dalat, seeing the sights and eating bacon wrapped sausage rolls, it was time to leave. The town has a very vibrant nightlife and there are plenty of things to do there.
The route today was mostly down hill, which made a change after all the climbing we have done. But, apart from the first few km when we left the city, which was through a forest, the roads are now lined with nonstop buildings, with the odd glimpse of green fields every now and then.
The good news is, the roads are much better and have a wide shoulder, except for some bridges, and we are not harassed by the buses and coaches.
There is new annoying habit the scooters have started to do, they come past at the top of the hill, and then knock it out of gear and coast down the other side, Usually we have time to go round them, but a few times they have done it right in front of you, but a loud ‘get out the “£$% way’ usually works, (I know, it’s not very polite, but they are really doing my head in with this).
When we reached our objective for the day we found a small guesthouse to spend the next 2 nights, but it was sooooooooo bad!!!!! Fortunately we had seen one at the top of the last hill, so we back tracked about 2 km and stayed there, it wasn’t very big and had no windows, but it was clean, new, had hot water and towels, and good internet, exactly what we need.
The plan tomorrow is to visit some water falls, and come back to the room before moving on the next day.
We started the day with a glass of hot tea from the owner of the guest house, which was a nice surprise, and we still got away early.
We started on the same main road as yesterday with all its pot holes and heavy traffic, but instead of staying on it we turned left to follow a smaller road, which turned out to be a great idea. There was a lot less traffic, and the road surface was much better. Also, it was 2 km shorter and a few metres less to climb!
The forecast was for cloud and thunder, but although it was cloudy the rain didn’t materialise, but the lack of any breeze was a pain and we were soon soaked in sweat, and cleaning the sweat off your glasses when your t-shirt is dripping wet is impossible!
The first part of the ride was a gentle climb with some short descents, and we were going very fast. When we stopped for breakfast we were averaging over 16 km/h.
Our first detour was to visit the ‘famous’ elephant falls, a sheer drop over a granite cliff, but to get to the view from the bottom involved clambering down a very slippery path, with a flimsy hand rail, not easy when you have metal cleats on your shoes. After that we headed towards another tourist trap, the Coffee Garden. As we approached you could see this huge scaffolding construction on the hill, which looks totally out of place in the rolling hills, and when we arrived at the car park there were a million people there. The cars were abandoned on the road making it difficult for the buses to pass, people were milling about all over the place, and the parking attendants were completely useless.
It is very common to have a parking attendant to look after the many scooters here, they park them for you, and get your scooter out from the mass when you want to leave, but the guys here didn’t have a clue what they were doing, and at one point one of them was about to lift the back of my trike while I was still in it! Again we are treated like the local cyclists, poor people who can’t afford a scooter! It only took a few minutes for us to have had enough of this and we left.
This was also the start of the real climb, from here the road became steeper all the way to the town of Dalat. But the good news was it was also the start of a newly surfaced section of road, with plenty of space for us and the traffic.
Once again the trikes attracted a lot of attention from the hoards of bikes and scooters using the road for a day out, and people were slowing down to take photos as they passed us, and at times stopping us for selfies with them.
The climb itself was not too bad, the steepest sections were only posted as 8% gradients…easy! The smooth surface and the shade made for a pleasant ride, not fast, but slow and steady, without needing to stop too often. Once again the trikes showed their comfort compared to doing this on a bike.
When we finally reached the top and the town of Dalat it started to spot with rain, but with a few hundred metres to go to the hotel we just pushed on, But that was all it did, just a few spots!
The hotel is nice and the owners are very friendly, but the parking for the trikes is a piece of waste ground next to a building site, totally open for anyone to interfere with them, which they do!
We are now here for the weekend, to get more repairs done to Matt’s trike, (one of the pedals has come loose and the front left tyre (which was new when we left) has totally worn out (tracking problems I think, but impossible to reset here)), and to have a proper look around the town.
This is the end of the mountains, from here it is down hill to Ho Chi Minh City, although there are still hills to climb, but there should not be any more 800-1,000 m days…yeeeey!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The day we arrived in Dalat the forecast was for heavy rain and storms all weekend, but apart from one heavy shower it was bright and sunny! But the canal that runs through the city rose from a slow stream into a raging torrent very quickly.
Once again we had to get one of the trikes fixed, new tyres and a pedal tightened, which took two trips to the bike shop. But it gave us time to look around the town centre.
This is a very popular tourist destination, and the hotels are full at the weekends, there are plenty of restaurants and bars full of people, but the one thing we didn’t see was anywhere to taste wine (Vietnamese wine is named after this town?).
The lakes in the centre of the town are a real tourist trap, with horse drawn coaches and expensive cafes, but the lakes themselves are dirty, and although there are pedalos to rent you are not allowed to swim in them!
We walked halfway around the main lake towards the flower garden, but when we got there we had a beer in a café and took a taxi back.
There are some local specialities that we tried, like meat stuffed snails, that come with handles to pull the snails out of the shell.
There is a very vibrant night life in the town, everything from bars and clubs, to a large plaza where families go for fun.
Like most towns in Vietnam the architecture can be quiet austere, but there are also some quite striking modern designs!
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