58km, av 12.7km, max 56.2km/hr, time on bikes: 4hr 33 mins
From what we’ve read about this section, today is going to be a hard old slog through the Central Highlands, so we set the alarm *really* early for us (6am!!) and are on the road by 8.15am, after a breakfast of champions: omelette, laughing cow cheese on bread, coffee, and, er, a weird tasting glow in the dark strawberry milkshake.
The first 20km or so aren’t too bad, with lots of up and down, but nothing out of the ordinary. The road is good, so good in fact that coaches seem to enjoy putting their foot down. They take those corners so fast… maybe too fast: somewhere along the way we see the charred remains of a completely burnt out double-decker just sat there on the road. There are no clues as to what happened (engine fire? arson?) or how long ago, but you just hope everyone on board got out alive.
At about 20km we stop for a banana break. Only the bananas we bought in the dark the night before (actually, she gave us them for free, after trying to persuade us not to take them at all!) turn out not to be bananas, or at least completely unripe. Schoolboy error, and a crushing roadside disappointment.
The next 14km or so are hard. Those pesky 10% inclines just keep on coming, some of them for 500m or more at a time, and in between it feels like there are even steeper bits that they’ve just not had the heart to sign-post. The heat is tough but, thankfully, as we’re higher up and in the mountains, there’s more cloud cover and a fresh breeze. The payoff is the spectacular mountain scenery and fresh air. Hanoi this is not.
Salvation arrives at 1pm in the form of a roadside cafe (the first we’ve seen since leaving Kham Duc) strategically located opposite another impressive, although sadly inaccessible, waterfall, around 34km into our day, at around 1,100 metres altitude.
We lunch on Pho and coke, plus some oranges donated by a kind man who also asks us to pose in a photo with him. This has happened a few times in Vietnam now, our favourite being yesterday when a group of teenagers on mopeds stopped us as we slogged our way up another hill for a red-faced picture with them, before speeding off laughing!
After lunch it’s a little easier; there’s a bit more Up to contend with, aided by The Stone Roses (“she’s a waterfall…”) and Teleman (“I’m not in control…”) but thankfully, the last 10 to 12km are all downhill, and what a downhill it is; with a good road and some decent straight bits, I accidentally smash the 50km/hr mark, recording a maximum of 56.2km/hr. (Don’t worry mum, I tested my breaks and had a helmet on!) It is quite amazing/scary/fun how quickly you accelerate down a 10% hill with a fully loaded bike.
We arrive in Dak Glei around 4pm, so not too shabby, although that early start came in useful. There are about four guesthouses in town and, while we debate the pros and cons of each, the woman at the last one we see reduces her price from 150,000 to 100,000 VND. Who needs to haggle when you can just procrastinate?!
Overall, the day was tough, but not impossible. We sweated buckets, we drank loads, we gained about 1,000m in height (and then lost it again), but we managed it. If you’re going this way too, enjoy!