1/3/15: Kham Duc to Dak Glei

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!

two people ina waterfall

28/2/15: Thanh My to Kham Duc

60km, av. 15.2km/hr, max 48.8km/hr, time on bikes: 3hr 57 mins

As the heat intensifies, our starts are getting earlier… but still not that early. Today we’re on the road by about 9.15am. The sun breaks through the low cloud around 9.35, so at least we beat it by 20 minutes!

The heat today is hard work, but the roads and scenery are fantastic. The first 35km or so are some of the finest we’ve rode so far, with a beautiful, well built, undulating road (Route 14, the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail) following the river valley as it twists and turns, with barely a house to be seen, just a valley filled with lush tropical vegetation and the sound of birdsong. There’s even a moment when there isn’t a single electricity pylon in sight!

We lunch (crackers and a pineapple found on the road yesterday) at a beautiful roadside waterfall – not sure if it has a name but you can’t miss it – where the temptation is too great to not stand under its cooling waters. It’s soooo refreshing!

The remaining 25km are much harder, as the heat and the gradient increases. It’s not killer, but there are several 10% stretches, and the 30c heat is pretty intense (although we know it’s gonna get hotter!) We take it easy, with plenty of rest, rehydration and shade breaks, and arrive in the town of Khan Duc at about 4pm.

Khan Duc is also bigger than we expected (maybe all these hills are making us think we are still in Laos?!?) and there are loads of guesthouses, although the rooms we see aren’t great. Obviously, word gets out that there are two frazzled-looking cyclists looking for a place to stay, as a glamorous looking woman from the big Be Chau Giang hotel rides up on a moped and asks us to follow her. They have cheap rooms for 150,000 VND which are a cut above what we’ve had for this price previously, so we go for it. There’s even shower gel and shampoo, and towels that are bigger than face cloths! Plus, the mattress is *almost* comfy… we’ll sleep well tonight and we need to – tomorrow is the Big One…

** PS. Today was also our first (and last) anniversary as a couple together. I forgot it, Rachel didn’t, and I was in the dog-house all of the following day if I remember rightly; so there are some good memories mixed with some not-so-good memories on this day and 1st March 2015. I’ll always be sorry about this. **