Vietnam’s Highway 27

Highway 27 which runs from Da Lat to Buon Ma Thuot is by far the most beautiful road we have cycled on in to date in Southeast Asia. Great climbs, wonderful views, and very little traffic make it an amazing road for cycling.

Day One: Da Lat to Mile Marker 99
101.29km, 5:44:10, 17.6k/h

We left Da Lat at 6am and started the day with a fast and steep descent down from the 1500 meter hill station. Once we got back down to the lowlands, we were back in the rural and tropical surroundings to which we have become accustomed.

Next week’s pho bo.

A little girl and her machete.

Typical tools.

After about 30 kilometers of flat roads, we began to climb into the beautifully cultivated hills.

The road was perfectly smooth, the views of the coffee being grown on the hillsides were gorgeous, and to make it even better it got much cooler as we ascended. The motorbike traffic was light and we saw only a handful of trucks. Cycling bliss! The pass topped out at 1529 meters according to our Rough Guide road map.

At the top of the pass there was a little rest station, complete with hammocks and cool drinks.

After our descent, the road deteriorated quite a bit and we were back in the steamy jungle at around kilometer 80. The road was so deserted and crumbling, we would have thought we had gone the wrong way if we hadn’t met some Kiwi cyclists going the other way who warned us about it. The road was as bad as the ones in Cambodia but the lack of vehicles meant we could take up the whole road in search of the smoothest path.

At about 3pm we realized we weren’t going to make it to the next town, so we started to keep our eyes open for a place to camp. Only a few minutes later, we found an abandoned house right off the highway and quickly set up our tent inside. The house was two rooms with no water or toilet and the walls were papered with cardboard and old newspapers. We thought we would be alone all night, but after about an hour of hiding in the dark, we were surprised by a married couple who showed up at the house. They were there to collect some scrap wood and immediately said it was OK when we mimed that we wanted to sleep there. It was a hot, sweaty night in the tent. For some reason, sleeping in a tent in this weather makes you feel extremely greasy. Maybe it has something to do with all the synthetic surfaces.

Day Two: Mile Marker 99 to Lake Lak at Lien Son Township
56.67km, 3:31:55, 16.0k/h

We woke up at 5am after a fitful night. We aren’t used to sleeping in the tent anymore and I felt like I had woken up about 50 times during the night. After only about ten kilometers of riding, we stopped for some “ca phe sua da” (iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk) and we were quickly surrounded by the family that owned the cafe. We showed them the pictures on our camera and tried to communicate where we were going and where we had been. They were also very interested in our map. We pointed out Da Lat on the map and Buon Ma Thuot where we were headed. We wanted to know what town we were in, but when they tried to show us they were looking at places in Cambodia and Thailand. Hmmm. As we got up to leave, they offered us some fresh breadfruit a neighbor had brought over. Breadfruit is very chewy and has a mild, fruity flavor. Sarah thinks it tastes like Hawaiian Fruit Punch.

Their three year-old was talking constantly and saying “Hello” and blowing kisses at us.

We cycled on and only went for another hour before we met Mr. Pham The Quang on the road. His first sentence to Sarah was “You are very strong!” so of course she liked him immediately. He spoke excellent English and we learned that he had worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Army during the war. He asked if we would take a picture of him to send to his sister in Houston, so we rode to his village with him to perform the photo shoot.

That’s me on the left.

We offered to take some of the neighbors too. At first they all shrieked and ran away covering their faces with their hands when I aimed the camera at them. A few minutes later some brave people decided they’d give it a shot. They tried to pose, but it seemed like they couldn’t stay still long enough for me to take a picture of them.

After the photo shoot we sat down for some tea and fresh avocados from Pham’s sister’s farm. We have been eating the avocados with salt, but Pham served them with a spoonful of sugar. They are actually really good this way: like creamy candy. Pham said they were really good with ice too, but we couldn’t figure out how that would work.

We said our goodbyes and then rode on to Lake Lak. This last stretch of road was flat and everybody we saw was harvesting rice. People were beating the stalks on steel drums, shaking the rice in giant woven baskets, and drying it right on the road. We went around the rice, but a lot of trucks just ran over it and then the farmers would rake it up again!

Day Three: Lake Lak to Buon Ma Thuot
51.87km, 3:11:52, 16.3k/h

Cycling away from Lake Lak, we had a short climb and then spent the rest of the day riding rolling hills on the plateau. The hills here were a lot rockier, but most of them were still being farmed.

Today was hot with no clouds, but we had a stiff breeze to cool us off.

The remnants of what looked like an old colonial church.

View of the rice paddies below.

Every restaurant and cafe in Vietnam is full of tiny tables, chairs, and stools. The stools literally come up just past our ankles and the chairs are calf-high. It reminds Sarah of the “kids’ table” she always had to sit at for Christmas dinner celebrations with the extended family. We look ridiculous sitting in these chairs, and all the locals seem to agree – they are very entertained by our giganticness!

The bathroom at this particular cafe was one we hadn’t encountered before. It was a little wooden room off the back of the cafe, on stilts about 20 feet above the hill below. The construction was rickety – there were lots of cracks and gaps between the scrap wood used to construct the room, and to get to it you had to walk along a narrow plank made of pieces of old wood. There was no actual toilet, only a small square hole cut into the floor of the room with a stack of newspaper stacked next to the hole for wiping (or reading?) purposes. Sarah had the pleasure of using this bathroom and came back saying she hoped no one was standing around at the bottom getting splattered!

Today was a short day, so we arrived in Buon Ma Thuot just in time for lunch. We had fresh spring rolls. You make them yourself by wrapping up the lamb, pork crackling, fresh herbs and greens, starfruit, green banana, pickled scallions, rice noodles, and cucumbers in rice paper and then dipping them in the creamy sauce. Sarah loves these and every time we eat them she says “Now THIS is what I came to Vietnam for!”

Tomorrow we head north on Highway 14.

4 Responses to “Vietnam’s Highway 27”

  1. alex wetmore Says:

    Avocado’s with ice — I’ve had an avocado drink that was sort of like a Indian lassi but made with avocado instead of yogurt.

    I’m really enjoying the blog and jealous of your trip (except maybe some of the really dirty guest houses).

  2. James and Sarah Welle Says:

    Yup, that must be what he meant. We have seen a couple of places serving avocado shakes now. They are made with avocado, ice, coconut milk, and sugar. Sarah is dying to try one so we’ll let you know how they are here.

  3. The Question of Pace Says:

    Thanks for another interesting post. You’ve enlivened my cubicle lunch time.

    I’m curious how you two solve the Pace Problem– the natural tendency of two people to ride at difference paces. Offer a days worth of riding, this could mean the difference of many more miles traveled.

    Do you always ride together at the pace of the slower rider?

    My wife and I play a sort of accordion when we ride together. I’ll pull ahead for awhile to ride a pace more comfortable for myself, and then wait or fall back, ride together some, and the pull ahead for a bit more. It’s a nice mix of being alone and together that works for us.

  4. James and Sarah Welle Says:

    We stick together. We have loaded my bike down as much as possible and lightened Sarah’s, but I still get ahead of her. When I do, I just slow down or stop and wait. We usually don’t even get out of each other’s sight. It doesn’t really bother me that much. If I want some intensity, I just go hard up a hill and wait for her at the top.

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