Nicely Caffeinated

It’s been a typical past couple of days in the highlands for us. Drinking lots of coffee, cycling short hilly days, and having my arm hair pet by kids at internet cafes. We cycled along Highway 14 stopping at the following cities: Plei Ku, Kon Tum, Dak To, Dak Glei, and Kham Duc. Highway 14 is also known as the Ho Chi Minh Highway because it follows the old Ho Chi Minh Trail. It is a relatively new road and the surface has been great. The terrain has been constantly rolling and today turned into actual mountains for the first time. The weather has been good. It has been hot, but not as unbearable as it is in the lowlands. Up here, we often have a breeze that cools us down and it really makes cycling a lot more pleasant. In the late afternoon, it usually clouds over and threatens to rain, but we rarely get wet.

Coffee plantations dominate the countryside and even the smallest village has several cafes. We start off with a coffee before we set out in the morning and have another with breakfast an hour or two later. The cafes serve weak iced tea to be drunk between sips of the strong coffee so you get a double dose of caffeine! An iced coffee with condensed milk costs 4000VND (~US$0.25) just about everywhere.

Most of the towns and villages on Highway 14 have a rong. A rong is a community meeting hall used by the ethnic minority peoples that inhabit this region of Vietnam.

A rare shot of yours truly.

We saw a couple of these wire bridges that looked like they were tied together by hand. Sarah wanted to walk out on this one, but I told her she would be auditioning for the Darwin Awards. She walked a couple of feet out over the river anyway. What a rebel.

As soon as we left Dak Glei this morning we began climbing and we continued to ascend for about 20 kilometers. Every couple of hundred meters there was a sign indicating the grade was 10%. I think we literally saw a dozen of these. This was the first time in southeast Asia where we’ve really felt like we were in the mountains.

As we climbed, we passed many villagers herding their cattle. There was almost zero vehicular traffic on the road. We got passed by maybe a dozen buses and trucks the entire time.

The views were impressive. Near the road the villagers had planted crops but in the distance it was virgin jungle and high mountain peaks.

North of Plei Ku, hotels have been easy to find. Every 50 kilometers or so there is a decent sized town with food, water, and some sort of place to stay. A room usually costs around $7 for a fan and private bathroom and $10 if you want airconditioning and hot water too. We get a lot of attention in these little towns. The women love to stand next to Sarah and show their friends how they only come up to her shoulder at best. Little boys also seem to be fascinated by my arm hair. There are always groups of them staring at it and every once in a while one gets up enough nerve to stroke it. I haven’t scared anyone with my bushy chest yet though.

Not many people speak English around here, so we use our Rough Guide to order food most of the time. The food is pretty simple. You can get rice, soup, or noodles and your choice of stir-fried meat or vegetables. A meal for two with a couple of Saigon beers costs around US$3-4.

We are a couple of days from crossing into Laos. We are going to ride north to Lao Bao and then cross the border and head west to Savannakhet.

2 Responses to “Nicely Caffeinated”

  1. Lucia Says:

    Any chance we will get a finance update? I am curious to learn how you are working around your budget. I am guessing the coffee consumption is not making a dent on it. Twenty-five cents is quite a deal compared to $3 Starbucks.

  2. James and Sarah Welle Says:

    A finance update is in the works. I should have it by the time we hit six months of touring (end of June 2007). I’m confident it will blow your mind.

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