The buffalo boy in the field with red flag.

Just turned off the main road and heading towards Da Lat. Small country road, sun is shining, breeze is flowing as we ride along and are enjoying the road to ourselves. Pure bliss. Simply put. No more trucks and buses and exhaust fumes. Only the sound of our bike humming along the road. This would turn out to be the best part of the trip, and we made sure to enjoy it.

Needless to say, we never made it to Da Lat in time for a late lunch, we got there in time for a late dinner. After traveling on decent country roads, we hit the moon, literally. Several kilometers of craters, deep enough to topple vehicles made me train for a motocross license. The locals did indeed outrun us, but we gave them our best performance and hold our way for awhile. Until we spotted a photo opportunity and let our racing desires subside, as we rather start capturing that something we could keep instead of an imaginary motocross trophy. Never going get to splash with those champagne bottles anyway.

Driving to Da Lat equals scaling mountains. No matter how many times we thought that this would be it, we faced another upward heading curve. Zig zagging our way to the top and just behind a rain shower. Newly wet asphalt on narrow roads that we thought could only hold motorbikes until proven wrong by a car. How they do it is beyond our understanding of driving principles and physics. What we would consider reasonable road space for a car is not what the locals need to have. For instance, when a car takes the motorbike lane on Saigon bridge due to traffic jam, I thought I had seen it all. I was wrong. Never stop learning. In Vietnam, you get surprised everyday.

We caught up with the rain close to Da Lat. It was a very cool encounter. By the time we reached Da Lat, it was already dark. Found a cafe and ordered hot coffee and food. We were a bit worried. Our plan was to ride down from Da Lat after lunch time and still have daylight. Now it was raining outside and dark. I still had to be back for my dental follow up the next day.

Plan B, get some sleep before hitting the road again. First guesthouse we asked was already full. We only needed a room for a few hours we pleaded. A phone call was placed and we were told to follow. Short ride to another guesthouse and we could have a room. A hot shower and two hours sleep later we were again ready for the next stage. Donning the raincoat and heading out in the wet darkness. Cameras already put away. We took our last shot just before the rain hit us on the way up to Da Lat. The cameras stayed stowed away until we reached Saigon.

The ride at night was a once in a lifetime experience and we lived to tell the tale. The story I told in part I sums it up. We kept going from 10 pm until 4 am. We were still not down from the mountain. Instead, we had parked at a pagoda, next to a small waterfall. Somebody was up to serve us coffee and some snack. We drank and ate. Then, we both fell asleep, hugging our backpacks as we sat on the concrete benches facing each other. For the next hour we drifted back and forth from half asleep to asleep to semi awake. At 5 am, the crack of dawn, we mounted our bike again and continued our decent. Our vision vastly improved with the morning rays.

When we came down from the mountain, rows of repair shops on both sides of the road greeted us as well as a petrol station that was open. I forgot to mention that we had been running low on fuel twice and both times we had managed to find a station. This was the second time.

Pushing ahead and seeing the roadside coming alive. People opening their stalls, patrons having their breakfast, children on their way to school. It was strange to emerge from the darkness of the mountains and finding all the hustle and bustle in the sun light. Contrast. Our tiredness replaced with happiness for having survived the night.

The rest of the ride went smoothly and we arrived at 10 am in Saigon. Our faces covered in black grime from the road and I had a sunburned lip that had swollen to three times its normal size, causing laughter among all my friends. Small price to pay for a brilliant trip. Saigon-Hanoi trip is wish listed.

Enjoy the images from the coast until the hills of Da Lat:

View from the road.

Boy along the roadside.

One of many encounters with the herd along the road.

The herd and the herdsman.

Another herd coming up the hill.

The young boy was camera shy. He had been riding until we stopped and photographed.

Ordinary house by the roadside.

One of the few trucks we encountered on the road that day.

Steep hills ahead.

Yet another typical house by the roadside.

The white long ledge is actually a water reservoir.

Perfect riding conditions. Straight road ahead. Not to mention the tall and straight standing trees.

A coffee break is always welcome.

Not to mention a couple of rounds with Tra Da, iced tea.

The view from our table, the motorbike repair shop. A bucket full of tools and an air compressor next to.

A happy boy, his toy car and his herd to follow.

The herd.

The boy and the herd are leaving while a relative of the cafe owner is lounging in the hammock.

View from the road.

Back on the road. View from the bridge.

Collecting stones from the riverbank.

Closer view of the stone collector.

Loading up the cart with stones.

The next bridge we encountered. A walk bridge. Or so we thought.

Until we saw a tractor going across.

Being curious about the small road, we found the entrance, right next to the lush jungle.

Facing the bridge.

 

Detail from the bridge.

Next to the trail, behind a house that had a tree growing up from the inside, we spotted a small child's grave.

A lone tree.

Zig zag. All afternoon we ascended. Curve by curve.

Worker repairing the generator for the jack hammer.

Sitting on a rock, flip flops on, no googles and jack hammer in hand, the young boy is working.

Below the excavator is digging under the direction of the pink shirted supervisor.

The road at its narrowest. Buses still go through.

Reaching the roadside stalls at a popular viewing spot. The bus has just past the narrow road stretch.

Another bus heading downwards. Further up we encountered guarded barrier. The road closes at night as it has no road lights.

The stalls, awaiting customers.

Sign indicating bathroom. Climb over the ledge and do your bidding. Mind your foothold.

Tools of the trade.

Tradition still prevails.

 

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