Easy Riding in the Central Highlands, Vietnam

Sunset over the Mekong

Sunset over the Mekong

Gutted that we’d missed out on some mountain action in Sapa, we decided that Đà Lạt in Vietnam’s central highlands would be a good starting point for our motorbike cross-country adventure.

The town itself is a charming mix of Swiss chocolate-box mountain village and Vietnamese hustle, having been established a French hill station and health retreat because of it’s fresh air and cool temperatures. The latter was a welcome break from the humidity of Hoi An.

Easy Riders – leather-bound locals who lead travellers through the Vietnamese countryside on the back of their metal steeds – are what the town is probably best known for (that and Crazy House). We knew before we even flew out to Vietnam that we wanted the Easy Rider experience and that this would be our best chance to explore rural Vietnam, it’s farms, rice fields and to meet some of the country’s minority communities – of which there are approximately 53, each with their own language and customs, nestled in the hills of central Vietnam. What we got was an experience neither of us will ever forget and more than we could have hoped for.

Our mean machines for the five days

Our mean machines for the five days

It took some research though. On almost every corner, at every traffic light, you’ll be offered ‘Easy Rider sir? How long you stay sir?’ all claiming to be the real deal, genuine tour guides with impeccable English and 100% road-worthy bikes. I’m not saying that these guys would not have given us a brilliant time, but we wanted to scout things out a little before we parted with our cash. We listened to friends and family who had found exceptional guides and tried to contact them, but to no avail. For lots of the Easy Riders, the work simply fills a gap when they’re not working on the farm, in a factory or fishing, so it’s quite possible that the recommendations we received were no longer in the game. Our next port of call was TripAdvisor. There are many good reviews on here, but it’s rare to see anything with as consistent write-ups as the Original Easy Rider Vietnam page, so we thought we’d get in touch to see what the fuss was about.

We plumped for the Dalat Easy Riders Club after meeting one of their guides, Rocky in a local cafe. His English as perfect and he really listened to what we wanted to see, how long we wanted to spend on the road and understood exactly what kind of trip we were after. So after a chat about our intended route and where we’ be stopping each night, we agreed on five days, Dalat to Saigon taking in some of the Mekong Delta, including a homestay.

A unique bridge crossing on the Mekong

A unique bridge crossing on the Mekong

The next morning, Rocky and his apprentice (actually his brother-in-law) Buom, arrived at our hotel to pick us up, strapped our backpacks on to the motorbikes and we were off. For both of us, it was our first time riding motorbikes, but they were so comfortable and you felt completely steady – so much so by the end of the trip we’d catch ourselves dozing off on the back!

This post would be far too long if I were to detail every single thing we did and saw on the road. Needless to stay, we had the most amazing trip, and this was in large part due to the fact that Rocky and Buom were born and bred in the region, knew all of the country roads by heart and were so passionate about the land and proud to share their culture with us.

Heading down the pub after a hard day in the rice fields

Heading down the pub after a hard day in the rice fields

A few highlights of the five days includes:

  • Visiting a cashew nut factory – the kids working here were fascinated by how tall (and white) we were
  • Eating local food at roadside truckstops – the old men were the ones bemused by our presence at this one
  • Driving along the Cambodian border and learning about the Ho Chi Minh trail and seeing first-hand the scars left by Agent Orange
  • Sunset cruise along the Mekong in Rocky’s Godbrother’s boat, eating fried elephant ear fish and catching fireflies
  • Walking in the jungle in a tropical thunder storm watching the lightening fork over the waterfalls
  • Staying at Rocky’s parents’ lovely house, eating a delicious dinner and drinking rice wine infused with bees and honey
  • Visiting a variety of relics from the war, including bombed-out bridges, Viet Minh grave yards and the dishevelled shells of American military hardware
  • Drinking copious Vietnamese iced coffee and sugar cane juice, sometimes in roadside hammocks
  • Staying at Krong Kmar waterfalls, until recently a beauty spot visited only by Vietnamese tourists
  • Learning about a variety of Vietnamese crops, such as rice, black sesame seeds, avocados, jackfruit, durien, cocoa, bananas and cultivated mushrooms
  • Playing some kind of hopscotch varient with some Ma children in a hill town near Dalat

This part of the trip was probably the most expensive, at US$80 a day for the two of us. But in our mind it was worth every single cent. If you get the chance to cruise the Vietnamese countryside in this way, you won’t regret it! I’ll let the photos do the talking…

Playing hopscotch with the kids in the village

Playing hopscotch with the kids in the village

The central highlands in all their glory

The central highlands in all their glory

Dinner with Rocky's family

Dinner with Rocky’s family

Bombed out bridge through the rainforest

Bombed out bridge through the rainforest

Visiting a cashew nut factory

Visiting a cashew nut factory

 

For a round up of my top 7 places to visit in Vietnam, plus more photos, visit Skyscanner here.

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