HCMC Dining Guide

Thursday, May 7, 2015

H2H 2015 Days 24-26: Nearing Saigon

With a long afternoon full of free time in Lien Son after the short ride we played kickball in a field and did some team-building via a human pyramid. The Brits had no idea what was going on when it came to kickball (attempting to use rules from rounders, whatever that is), and my team of almost entirely North Americans dominated. This was almost like another rest day, which was needed as Day 24 was to be one of the most difficult of the route - our third and final Evil Bitch Day.
The ride from Lien Son to Lam Ha, in Lam Dong Province, was 112km long with nearly 4,000 meters of climbing, but it was absolute beauty. This would be the last of the really scenic days, and I made sure to remind the team to savor it. The first stretch out of Lien Son continued through the valley the town sits in, as the early morning sun burned the night's dew from the trees and the golden light illuminated green hills and scruffy villages.

The first climb of the day greeted us a little ways in, but I found it rather easy after the monsters we had already conquered in central Vietnam. After an awesome downhill on the other side I caught up with several riders at a home/cafe where we drew the attention of several coffee farmers. They harvested the hills adjacent to the building, and Chris T. translated while we ogled a baby and played with a puppy. The men were impressed by our journey and claimed they were lazy in comparison, although their wiry frames said otherwise. We ordered coffee in the hope that it would come from the fields out back, but they explained that their crops are sold wholesale to major buyers.
The coffee fields
We carried on, eventually reaching a bridge over a reservoir which looked down on a community of floating houses.



Afterwards we hit two consecutive major climbs - the gradients weren't especially challenging and the views from the top were incredible, but the road through this area was in appalling condition. Crater-like potholes littered both narrow lanes - fortunately there was little traffic, so we could usually zig and zag at will to avoid the worst bumps. Still, it made for unpleasant riding, although if they ever get around to re-paving those climbs they will be fantastic. Another plus was the weather - we played hide and seek with some light rain and the sun only occasionally peeked through the clouds, making for much less punishing climbing than on the days of clear skies earlier in the ride. (Although we still sweat like pigs.)


The final 15-20km into Lam Ha were downhill, and they were not pleasant. Heavy rain had moved through right before Jack, Chris T. and I arrived, and the road was soaked. My racing slick tires had little traction and my rear wheel fishtailed a couple times on twisty turns going down into town. The other drives didn't help, as they plowed through potholes, throwing out showers of muddy water, and generally driving like idiots. After much nervous braking we rolled into our hotel covered in mud. Our reward for the day's work was an excellent BBQ restaurant which served draft light and dark beer and had a picture of Obama on the sign. The town also featured an oddly large population of youths dressed in tight jeans and leather jackets, making it look like a giant scene from the Vietnamese version of West Side Story.
The following day's ride was much less remarkable - 104km to Bao Loc, a very pleasant city at the southern edge of the Central Highlands. We met with up with QL20, the highway to Da Lat, and northbound traffic was heavy due to the triad of national holidays that week - Hung Kings, Liberation Day and Labor Day. That meant our southbound lane was relatively quiet, but since there is no divider on the road we constantly had to content with tour buses, trucks and other vehicles recklessly careening towards us as they attempted to overtake slower traffic. Several times I was run off the road by gleeful drivers, and the lack of concern some of these people show for human life can be disturbing. 

We did get one cultural experience that day - Tat, one of the riders, was born in Vietnam to ethnic Chinese parents, and one of his aunts lives in Di Linh, a town we were passing through on the day's route. We stopped at her house and she plied with a huge stock of beverages - water, Pepsi and Red Bull, the last of which we politely declined since it is horrible during physical exercise. (And just generally horrible anyway.) The remaining distance into Bao Loc was full of major road construction, making it one of the most unpleasant stretches of the entire ride. I got yet another flat (at this point I had run away with the title of most flats) and pulled into town grumpy and dirty. Luckily Bao Loc quickly alleviates a bad attitude since it has great food, including amazing bo kho at the brilliantly named Pho Ket restaurant.

The next morning we had a team photo shoot next to the lake behind the hotel before setting off on our penultimate ride: another 100km jaunt, this time to the town of Phu Cuong.


The most notable aspect of this day was the huge downhill just outside of Bao Loc - this drops you off the plateau of the Central Highlands and into deep southern Vietnam (along with its attendant blazing heat). The downhill was beautifully re-paved, but the dense holiday traffic moving uphill prevented us from fully enjoying it, as dickhead drivers passed each other repeatedly, forcing us to slow down hard to avoid a head-on collision. The rest of the ride was easy, albeit steamy, as the newly expanded highway had ample shoulder space, and those of us on road bikes were finally able to step on the gas after days of construction and rough roads. Our hotel for the evening had a nice courtyard and we filled all of the rooms, so we hung out in the shade while the owner's 11 year-old daughter went to the market to get more beer for us thirsty riders. It was time to enjoy one final evening on the road: tomorrow would bring Saigon.

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