LAST month we left our intrepid Vietnam touring group on the shores of Lake Lak. Besides the beauty of the lake itself, the main reason tourists visit the area is to go for a ride on an elephant.
Click to read Vietnam – A gold star adventure – PTI
Tour Day Four
Our group was joined by a number of Scandinavians who were probably escaping the super freeze their country was experiencing. Being used to the cold you could see they were doing it tough in the sun, but so were we Aussies for that matter.
Two people to an elephant was the cry, so on we jumped and sat in the cradle, two by two. Not long after, we were waddling down a dusty road and before you knew it we were entering the lake. ‘Now this is going to be interesting,’ I thought but there was plenty of smiles and laughing from the ride participants. As we got closer to the centre of the lake it naturally got deeper and deeper. It was then I came to the conclusion it was better to be on a taller elephant, which luckily I was.
Unfortunately for Therese and Mark, their elephant was a little shorter than the others, causing a wet bottom for the elephant and Therese.
Lots of laughter, even from Therese, as we started the climb out and back onto dry land. Snakes alive Back on the road again until we stopped at the home of a local who obviously had a thing for reptiles. Now I am not a snake or spider fan and was not interested in the slightest of holding one. Plenty of the group was keen though, and paraded around the courtyard with snakes, spiders and scorpions. Braver than me.
By this stage it was getting pretty warm and it was time to head to our overnight destination of Buon Ma Thuot, but not before cooling our bodies at a waterfall just outside the city.
What a special place: beautiful, and cool. Standing underneath a section of the waterfall was fantastic, and everyone enjoyed a swim. It was almost like an oasis, with a restaurant offering great food as well. An enjoyable few hours were spent here. This was one of the shortest days of riding but we were all still a bit knackered upon arrival at our accommodation. The hotel pool beckoned though, and a few of us also opted for a massage, at something like $8 for a one hour massage (happy ending optional extra!). After dinner a few of the group headed out to sample a local fairground which even had dodgem cars, while the rest were content with dinner and a cool drink at a small cafe across from the hotel.
Tour Day Five
This was to be the biggest travelling day of the tour, around 250 kilometres. Early in the day we checked out a war memorial, which was more like a celebration of the people’s struggle and eventual win rather than a place with tanks and planes. It’s evident these places are special to the government at least as they are very well maintained. Along the way we stopped at a rubber plantation and saw noodles being made by hand, old school. We even got a good look at how a small countryside motorcycle workshop operated. We’d ridden past plenty but this time we checked it out close up.
By the time we stopped for lunch most of us were tired and by the afternoon coffee stop we were all longing for a sleep. Getting closer to our overnight base of Kon Tum the traffic was getting a bit chaotic, and finally in sight of our hotel I had a moment where two trucks took up all of the road, leaving little space for Kerrie, myself and our little Lifan cruiser.
Seeing we were on a bridge at the time it was a bit difficult to get right off the road so we just squeezed ourselves up against the railing and gave the truck driver a massive up yours as he went past.
That’s OK, we were quickly over the incident and motoring ahead again. That evening while the girls checked out the shopping district a few of us sat on the window ledge of our hotel room sipping Baileys and milk.
‘Ah this is the life’ we thought. Tour Day Six Kon Tum to Quang Nam is another decent hike but an easier ride than the day before. First we stopped at a very old wooden church which sat in the front of a children’s orphanage. We were made to feel very welcome, and the kids seemed very happy. One little baby was only three days old and had been left on the doorstep of the orphanage.
While it was great to see the kids laughing and playing it’s still sad to think about what they are missing out on.
We love our dogs here in Australia, and in Vietnam they like dogs as well, sometimes on the menu. Apparently as you go further north dog is more prevalent in restaurants. Just before we were about to stop for lunch Kerrie saw a dog’s head on a plate outside a shop.
“It was smiling,” she cried, so while lunch was tasty as always, there was a lingering thought… I was wondering when we would see the swinging suspension bridge which is on Vietnam Motorbike Tours’ website, and after lunch we did. Any thoughts of woof woof were gone because thoughts of riding across a dodgy wooden suspension bridge were dominating our brains.
Jurgen couldn’t wait and was ready to set forth until we yelled out there was someone actually crossing the bridge, and it wasn’t two way.
After we saved the local from plunging into the river Jurgen set about getting across and back, with success I might add. I had reservations but before I could go Father Kim was on his way, and back…
Of course I had to go, even my lovely wife Kerrie was keen for me to have a go…?
Well I didn’t disappoint, getting over and back in one piece despite the missing boards and crooked lay of the bridge. Off we set again to the next bridge which was unnervingly similar to the previous one.
Publisher Nigel was raring to go and off he set. When he was two thirds across I started swaying the bridge which had him throwing his feet out as outriggers. This was bloody hilarious, at least to me if not Nigel.
While we were enjoying this misadventure, Thor was having one of his own.
One of our guides, Bau, was notorious for stopping without warning, and this time Thor paid the price, hitting the back of Bau’s bike and hitting the deck. Pride was the biggest injury, and the actual blame was dependant on who was telling the story.
It was all a bit of a laugh later. At Quang Nam we had to stay in two different hotels near each other due to the size of our group, and our last dinner together was fantastic. Glen and I even got haircuts in a little salon.
Out came the cut throat razor with this petite young hairdresser wielding it with precision.
Once again, very cheap and fun too. Tour Day Seven The final day on the road was a shortish run from Quang Nam to Da Nang. Da Nang is known to many westerners as a hot spot during the Vietnam War. An American base was situated and it was a favoured R&R town for soldiers. Upon leaving Quang Nam we were treated to a winding road which was in very good condition.
It’s also quite pretty and the jungle borders the road in many places. Along the way we stopped at a roadside cafe which served us up platter after platter of fresh pineapple. Now, I’m a fan of the humble pineapple and these were the best I can remember eating anywhere.
Our bellies full of pineapple we set off to our next break and a mountainside truck stop. Glen thought he’d take a break and plonked himself into a hammock. Unfortunately these hammocks are made for lightweight Vietnamese people and in no time soon Glen found himself on the floor with a broken hammock, much to the amusement of our group. While there we saw a few trucks turn up and due to the hilly terrain the drivers were out hosing the brake drums of the trucks to get them back down to a reasonable temperature.
Another coffee stop beckoned – we were getting quite partial to Vietnamese coffee by this stage – and not long after that we found ourselves in the hustle and bustle of Da Nang itself. Our destination was the large train station, and despite part of our group getting lost we eventually got there. From here the bikes would be sent back to Nha Trang by train while the group would split up.
Some were continuing their holiday in different areas, while the rest of us had to catch a plane back to Saigon, and then back to Australia.
It was sad saying goodbye to our new friends but the plane wasn’t going to wait. Da Nang Airport is very modern and we were all able to get a European style coffee there which was nice after a week without one. After we arrived back in Saigon we decided a night on the town was in order. A few of the guys had earlier checked out the three storey 17 Saloon Bar so after dinner that was where we headed.
What a night. I won’t go into how many bottles of bourbon were consumed, and pretty much everyone agreed this was the best bar they had ever been to. Different music is played on each floor, and if you like a bit of night life and you find yourself in Saigon then it is a must do.
Tour Day Eight
For our final day most of the group headed a couple of hours outside Saigon to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels which were built by the Viet Cong. Our guide was former South Vietnamese soldier Tony.
Tony had fought alongside American and Australian soldiers during the Vietnam War and he was a very funny and informative guy.
Our bus ride out was a bit average, possibly because of the bourbon from the previous night, and it was great to finally get to the tunnels. You can also catch a boat out to the tunnels which would have been a better option.
How and why the tunnels were built is quite an amazing story, and we even got to crawl through a few of them too.
The coolest thing there for me was the chance to fire a weapon from the Vietnam War. At nearly $2 a bullet it’s not cheap but I opted for 20 rounds in the much maligned (by the Americans) Russian-made AK47, a rifle used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese armies. A number of us fired different weapons. You wouldn’t call it a yippee shoot but it was fun. To see the petite Laura loosing off a few rounds from an M60 machine gun was very funny.
Back to Saigon and before we knew it we were on the bus to the airport for the flight home. Even thinking about the tour now gives me a buzz, and I would have to say it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
The people are friendly, it’s a beautiful place and easy on the wallet. You can see Vietnam is becoming more westernised but our trip with Vietnam Motorbike Tours gave us a real taste of the true ‘old’ Vietnam, plus plenty of the new ‘Western’ Vietnam. All of us loved both sides of Vietnam’s personality. This was the biggest group Vietnam Motorbike Tours had ever catered for and to keep things in order we split the two riding groups up, meeting most times for lunch. In fact the two groups were only 10 minutes or so apart most times.
Accommodation and meals
All of the hotels we stayed in were western style. Good service, comfortable rooms, air-conditioned, and very reasonable prices (accommodation is included in the tour anyway). You would have to say the rooms were at minimum three star, mostly four.
Breakfast was also included and depending on how far into the countryside you were dictated whether breakfast leaned more towards western or eastern style foods. Pretty much everywhere we ate Vietnamese food and on the whole it was very nice.
Of course it’s important to drink bottled water to keep belly bugs away. Many of us took to drinking coke or beer which was very cheap, and because it was quite warm at times. It’s not a smart idea to throw down a few beers at lunch and then take on Vietnamese traffic in the afternoon anyway. We generally all ate together, and eating as much as you could fit in and having a few drinks came to about $6-$7 per person. In Nha Trang we ate at an amazing restaurant on the beach and this came to about $50 a couple. Everyone on the tour was surprised at how cheap it was.
Watch the Vietnam Tour video | YouTube – Cycle Torque Vietnam motorcycle tour Part I