<Easy Rider> Trip
Trough the Central Highlands of Vietnam
From Hoi An to Dalat - A 6 days adventure
Feb-2009 -
by Viktor Meier

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Hoi An

After roughly 5 hours, the bus from Hue reached Hoi An. It stopped right in front of a hotel. Tourists where “heartily” welcomed by the hotel touts who were already impatiently waiting to fulfill their job. 3 to 4 people talking at the same time, competing with each other offering their best deal (best room and best price in the best place) to the travelers who were still busily looking for their backpacks stored in the luggage compartment of the bus.

It was in this “chaotic “moment, a Dalat Easy Rider approached me and offered his service. He had just dropped off a traveler after a five-day trip, coming from Dalat through the Central Highlands to Hoi An. Now he was looking for a customer who preferably would take the same way back. I had heard about Easy Riders before from other travelers and they were all very happy about their trip. I exchanged my phone numbers with the Easy Rider in order to talk about trip details later on in the evening. I first wanted to get settled with room and food.

I took my meal in a small restaurant at the Hoi An river side and I inquired with the owner of the restaurant about motorbike drivers. I wanted to have another comparative trip offer. Within no time, a boy from the Hoi An Easy Rider group appeared and gave me an introduction of his organization and trip conditions. I still wonder whether it was the kindness of the lady in the restaurant or the eagerness for a commission which inspired her for this quick service. However, the Hoi An Easy Riders ( www.hoianeasyriders.wordpress.com ) is smaller group and a copy of the original <Dalat Easy Rider group> ( www.dalat-easyrider.com.vn ). They offer basically the same type of services. For a couple of reasons, I preferred the <Dalat Easy Rider > whom from now onwards I will call <Easy-Peter>. I met <Easy-Peter> in the evening and discussed route and financial conditions. The usual daily charge is 75$ per day which includes driver-guide, all motorbike expenditures and a night stay in the hotel. Food is extra. He offered me a small discount (65$ per day) because he was on the way back to his home town Dalat. Although still high priced for local conditions, there was no better alternative and I accepted the deal. We decided to start next morning at 9 am.

Day-1, from Hoi An to Phuoc Son

We started our trip punctually at 9 am. Our first destination was My Son, an archeological site belonging to the UNESCO world heritage, about 55 km from Hoi An. It is a set of Hindu temple complexes (ruins), which was part of the imperial city during the Cham dynasty between the 4th and 12th centuries. After My Son, we continued our trip towards Phuoc Son, through lonely agriculture fields on small roads. As bridges were not very frequent in this area, we had to cross a river by a small ferry. I saw <Easy-Peter> quarrelling with the ferry lady for some time before he paid our crossing fee. When I asked him about the matter, he told me that the lady wanted to double the ferry price for me arguing that I am an American. He settled the issue by telling her that I am from Europe.

We soon joined up with the main road no. 14, leading to Phuoc Son. The street leads through a hilly and beautiful landscape. On the river, a few huge boats were washing out the sand in search of the precious gold. We reached our destination at 3 pm and got settled in a hotel. Phuoc Son doesn't offer much. Opposite to our hotel was another hotel of a better rating. The owner, so the story tells, has found on a day such a huge clump of gold, that he could build his hotel and participate in developing projects for local people. There is also a small “stadium” to play football, a traditional Vietnamese market and few restaurants and shops for the needy people. However, the place is surrounded by nice hills. If you happen to see a nice sunset or sunrise, you will be definitely charmed by the view. The restaurants in the evening are crowded by young men who cheerfully consume food and in particular drinks in the company of their friends.

Day-2, from Phuoc Son to Kon Tum

“Easy Riders” have their main travel routes. They also have their preferred hotels to spend the night. As the hotel rent is included in their “package „ they will choose budget hotels between 10-12$/night. They are reasonably fine and one can usually find other “Easy Riders” with their clients. This gives a good chance to exchange experiences.

For breakfast we joined up with other “Easy Riders” before we continued our trip to Kon Tum. Our way was all along the road no. 14, which is known as the Ho Chi Minh Highway. In fact, this road has not much to do with the original Ho Chi Minh trail. The original Ho Chi Minh trail was a web of tracks, roads and waterways which were mostly parallel to the Vietnamese border in Laos and Cambodia (see: www.vietquoc.com/na110400.htm ).

We visited traditional ethnic houses, saw people making broom sticks, entered a small tapioca factory and stopped now and then to see one of the abundant war memorials. 40 km north of Kontum, we passed through the war areas of Dak To and Charlie Hill, an important base and battle field during the Vietnam War.

We reached Kon Tum about 4 pm. We got settled in the hotel and after taking a short rest, we went to see around in town. We visited a couple of villages of minority groups, the beautiful wooden French Cathedral and the close by orphanage home. The sunset look from the suspension bridge was beautiful. The Eva Café is also worth a visit with its artistically designed place and pleasant atmosphere. The evening was spent by taking food in the restaurant and a stroll through the local market.

Day-3, from Kon Tum to Buon Ma Thuot

We started our journey at 8 am to Buon Ma Thuot, about 250 km from Kon Tum. We are still driving along the “Ho Chi Minh Highway” (road no. 14). Just 7 km outside Pleiku, there was a nice volcanic crater Lake called Bien Ho (or Sea-Lake). The peaceful surrounding invited us for a little break of the journey.

On our way, we passed through many agriculture fields and plantations, such as rubber, coffee, pepper and tapioca. We also stopped at a place, where heaps of irons, including bombshells from the war fields were collected. Accidents with duds are still happening. The lady, who showed us a recently found big bomb explained, how her husband lost his life many years ago in accident excavating a bomb.

Further on, we visited a pagoda and had a closer look at a cemetery of an ethnic minority group. There is a custom to bring food for the parted souls to the grave for a period of about 3 years.

At noon we stopped for lunch. Many road restaurants provide hammocks for the tired travelers. So we took advantage of this facility and relaxed for some time before “hitting” the road again. We reached Buon Ma Thuot towards 5 pm and followed our evening routine which consisted of a little rest before eating and a stroll in the market.

Day-4, from Buon Ma Thuot to Lak

The 2 waterfalls <Dray Sap> and <Gia-Long> were the main attraction today. They are about 25 km south-west of Buon Ma Thuot along the Krong Ana River. The two waterfalls are connected by a 7 km river path which invites for a pleasant walk.

After the sight of the waterfalls, we continued our journey towards Lak. On the way we stopped at a coffee plantation. Right next to the plantation was a beekeeper. He owned about 200 small beehives which were aligned in a few rows. He was just working on them, checking about their health status. He explained a few things concerning the bees, showed us the honeycomb, the queen and the drones and prohibited us from having quick movements which might disturb the peaceful mood of the honeybees.

A little further on, we passed by a small granite stone quarry where 2 people were working. They were cutting all day long systematically square shaped granite blocks by the means of hammer and chisel.

Our last stop over before reaching Lak Lake was a brick factory. Here we could see the whole procedure of brick manufacturing from the state of clay to the solid brick, ready to be used for construction.

We reached Lak Lake quite early. The hotel was nicely located, half way up the hill side and overlooking parts of the lake. A nice veranda gave possibility to relax and meet with other travelers. Next to the hotel was a simple and spacious restaurant belonging to the same complex. The remaining afternoon was spent in little walks around the hotel area, which was basically surrounded by nature, either down to the lake side or towards the hill top. A small street to the hill top lead directly to the former <emperor palace>. This place is now known as the hotel Bao-Dai-Villa. If you are ready to pay 30$, you are allowed to sleep in the spacious royal room enjoying best view.

After dinner, I spent the rest of the evening chatting with a forest engineer and some of his friends. His job was taking care of the surrounding forests and fighting illegal cutting down of trees. He was settled in the same hotel and had a kind of side-job as a night guard.

Now and then he had to get up and check on people, arriving or leaving. I was actually surprised that in this rather lonely place was so much movement in the later part of the evening. After some time, when a young lady passed in front of us, he told me in a low voice pointing at her <Miss Vietnam>. I didn't get the point immediately. A little later it became clearer to me when the same lady disappeared a couple of times with different young men. When I asked him directly, he disclosed that there were some rooms which are „charged by the hour".

Day-5, from Lak Lake to Dalat

If you have never come across a place riding an elephant, you have the chance to do it in Lak Lake. In the Jun village, next to the lake, you will find a possibility. The Jun village is a traditional village of the M'nong ethnic group. You can see their traditional houses and their simple way of life. In the village, you will also find all kinds of domestic animals sharing the ground. The dogs of the Jun village were the only one which considered me as an intruder and felt annoyed by my strolling between the houses. They ganged up and approached me in a rather hostile manner. I remembered that just picking up some sticks or stones from the ground can keep them at distance. I was glad that this trick was also working with the Jun-village-dogs and I slipped away unharmed.

Joining up again with <Easy-Peter> outside the village, he introduced me to a shop lady. In the backside of her shop she had a mini distillery for rice liquor which she showed us happily. Just next to it was her small indoor pig breeding. They get their daily share from the leftover of the rice liquor production. It may have been therefore that they were grunting happily.

We continued our trip to Dalat. As <Easy-Peter> was a fan of short cuts, we passed through some dirt roads. The result was a puncture and the few minutes gain turned out to be at least a 45 minutes loss. But who cares about time, there was basically no hurry and we didn't have to cover a big distance today. It may have been <Easy-Peter's> wish to drop me off early, since he didn't see his family for 10 days (two 5-days Easy Rider-trips). However, he always keeps some extra tyre -tube and tools with him and was able to settle the trouble after a short time.

We continued our trip to the second highlight of the day which was a silk factory. It was very impressive to follow the process of getting a nice silk shirt from the starting point of some little silkworms. Eggs of silkworms are either produced by some local silkworm breeders or they are bought from China. After hatching, the silkworms will be grown for 28 days in huge trays. During this time, they only eat mulberry leaves. After 28 days, they will be transferred to a cocoon-stand where each worm finds a tiny place to produce the cocoon with their saliva. This takes about three days.

Once the cocoons are ready, they are sent to the silk factory. They should be processed before the moth comes out of the cocoon, destroying it by making a hole. Cocoons are thrown into 80°C hot water, unraveled and several filaments are brought together into a thicker thread. A cocoon silk thread may reach up to 1000 m. After the cocoon is unwound, the “boiled” pupa is liberated and ready to be harvested. There are 2 qualities; the first one is sold to the market to be eaten by people and the second one is fed to the pigs.

We left the silk factory behind us and stopped once more before reaching Dalata to taste some fruits of a passion fruit plantation. Reaching Dalat, Easy-Peter dropped me in a hotel. He knew about my plans to go to the Mekkong Delta and offered me his service after a day of rest. I told him that I wanted to stay another day in Dalat and that I preferred to cover the distance to Ho Chi Minh City (308 km) by bus in one day. After settling the financial part, we parted from each other.

After a little refreshment in the hotel, I was ready for my first roaming around in Dalat City. There was about a 10 minutes' walk to the centre. Just after leaving the hotel, another Easy Rider stopped by and offered me a free ride to the centre. He explained me a few things on the way and gave me an idea what all I could see tomorrow in a day trip. He was a sympathetic fellow and his “trip-selling-strategy” worked out with me. I agreed for a slightly modified 8h-programmm within Dalat and the surrounding for 20$. Before he left, he showed me a good restaurants which turned out to be excellent.

Day-6, Dalat

Punctually, <Easy-Trung > appeared in front of my hotel and we could start to explore the place. Dalat is about 1500 m above sea level. The pleasant climate is very ideal to grow vegetables and flowers. After tourism, growing vegetables and flowers are the major occupation of the people. It would be too much to go into details about this day-trip because we have seen so many places. Below I have listed shortly most of the places we visited:

Vegetable farms, flower farms, coffee plant nursery, mushroom farm, Tofu factory, broomstick manufacturing family, silkworm breeder, elephant waterfalls, meditation centre, monastery for nuns and the Crazy house. Many more sights could be seen on the way between the differen places. The day was very intense and educative. <Easy-Trung> has also introduced me to many people and it was through him I could communicate with people. This is a point one should not underestimate. It really brings you closer to people of another category. Some of the Vietnamese people are also very jokey and it is very pleasant to have talks with them. In the evening, <Easy-Trung> brought me back to the hotel.

Altogether I can highly recommend the Easy Rider trip. There was not one moment I regretted my decision after starting in Hoi An. If you happen to get the chance for an Easy Rider Trip, why not trying it out!! Below you find some information which may be useful when opting for the the Easy-Rider way.

Tips for how to book a <Dalat Easy Rider>

•  Way of Booking: There are basically 2 ways of booking an <Easy Rider> trip.
1) Booking via internet: You can do it via internet email:vndalateasyrider@yahoo.com (see also their website). If you wish, they even get you from the Airport. The advantage is that you can start your journey right away. The risk of not getting an <Easy Rider> fitting to your requirements will be left to you.
2) Direct booking: It is safer choosing the <Easy Riders> yourself. This you can easily do in Dalat, where plenty of them are available. There you don't have to worry about finding one, they find you. You can also make your contact through: Easy Rider Café - 70 Phan Dinh Phung street, Dalat City.

•  Choosing a Driver: If you are going for a longer trip, it is important that you find a pleasant driver. He will be not only your driver, but also your guide. Find out about the language of communication and check it out. Ask him whether he will be available for evening activities.

•  Route: Find out about the detailed route with stopovers before starting. Make sure that your personal wishes are included.

•  Rates: If you have the choice between many different <Easy Riders>, you have the possibility to bargain. Although they tell about fixed prices, you can get lower rates if you go for a longer trip. If you get a discount, you are not allowed to talk about it to others.

•  Motorbike: Don't forget that you may have to sit for 5-6 h daily on the motorbike. Have a test-ride for your own comfort. At the same time, you can feel about the driving-style of the <Easy Rider>.

email: Viktor Meier (viktor1meier@yahoo.com)

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