Vietnam, particularly the highlands around Dalat, has developed a form of motorbike tours called ‘Easy Riders’ that combine the thrill of the open road, insider knowledge about beautiful places, good food, and some authentic exposure to highland life in Vietnam.
I had taken a trip on a motorbike here last time I was in Vietnam, but it was just transportation, not a tour. Still it was great and I wanted to do more.
The Easy Rider name is a bit like Famous Ray’s Pizza in NYC. No one really knows who was first to start taking tourists around on motorbikes and calling themselves Easy Riders, but it was about 15 years ago. Today there are dozens that all claim to be ‘The original’ Easy Riders.
I chose ‘Easy Riders Vietnam’ based on competence responding and price though it was a very close contest between 4 groups. The tours are almost all the same structure – you ride with them on the back on a bike and they supply the accommodation (usually decent 2-star hotels) and gear like rain jackets.
What they don’t pay for is food or drink, but unlike a tour group that wants to economize on food, you eat with your easy rider and you split the bill. So they have as much incentive to find cheap good eats as you do. I suppose there could be kick-back schemes like the ‘free’ tours where they take you from gift shop to gift shop. But the reviews say they are quite earnest.
Emma wakes up with some kind of stomach problem that makes her nauseous and we go on alert for sickness. Most likely it’s normal stuff that will go away but one has to be cautious. We have not had a bad sickness since Emma had a fever in Xian, China. Before that she was sick at a resort in Ixtapa, Mexico when she was 4. It makes me concerned, but I know to just wait it out. We get her water and a banana.
We get on our plane easily with little delay. Our three domestic flights (2x Viet Jet and 1 Vietnam Airlines) have been smooth. I always worry about these small airlines that have reputations for cancelling flights arbitrarily. Cam Ranh is our destination, a smaller beach city near party Mecca ‘Nha Trang’ but only for the airport.
If you have followed the blog you might know we don’t spend a lot of time on beaches. It’s fun for a bit, and walks along secluded beaches are great but sitting in hot sand with lots of other people seems pretty boring. Pools are a little better and we have spent a few days here and there just in resort/hotel pools hanging out. Amanda, having grown up in Florida, is probably our most beach friendly member of the family.
So fuck the beach. We’re hitting the road on motorcycles! Tuan, the boss finds us in the busy airport, and leads us toward a cafe in back where we drink water and coffee. Emma is feeling better thank god.
The bikes aren’t huge choppers, one of them is 150cc. But they all are comfortable enough even with our luggage wrapped in plastic and strapped to the back. Emma rides with Bob, Amanda with Bruno, Lily with Bang and I in the rear with Tuan.
The first few hours are in the hot sun, riding south toward the mountains. (Despite ample sunscreen, we all end up with slight burns here and there where we missed spots.) But it’s glorious – even the hot wind blowing in my face feels good.
They turn off a road after about an hour of butt numbing riding and we stop at a local rice paper and noodle factory.
Local rice paper – meaning unfit for export – is a cottage industry. The fields where the rice is grown are right outside the small factory where they work the rice dough by hand, and some heavy equipment rolls it thin for cutting into noodles or laying out on bamboo racks to dry and cut into rice paper sheets. The yellow color is a particular style tinted with turmeric.
30 minutes later we stop at a woodcutter. They used to do heavy logging but the government has stopped mass deforestation, (unless it suits them. It’s quite a corrupt place.) The locals have adapted by going back into the forest and getting old stumps of trees and turning them into furniture and carvings, mostly of buddha and other stuff.
We head into the foot hills, and eventually up the mountains. The peak is 4500 feet, after which we will go down again into the central highlands and the main city of Dalat.
At the cloud line, we enter a deep fog. The scenery is amazing, deep green farmland to the cliff side, and rocky yellow cliffs to the right.
The air gets cooler, which is enjoyable at first, then a little chilly. Some rain droplets hit my face shield, and then more, and then it starts to downpour. We pull over and find a little cave for cover. They guys pull out full pants and jacket heavy plastic rain gear – except for lily who gets a bright purple poncho – lol. Amanda gets the goofiest though – moon boots to cover her sneakers. The rest of us went in flip-flops.
Riding in the rain is kind of fun, though we have to go more slowly. I never feel unsafe – the guys are great drivers. They slow for every animal, bump in the road, puddle, curve.
I do have anxious flashbacks to a bad mountain bike spill I had just a few days before we left. It was bad enough to tear a hole through my sneakers badly scrape the knuckle of my big toe. I twisted my knee pretty badly too. My wheels when out from under me on wet pavement at a pretty high speed.
And then we are at the top of the mountain, and back down a bit to the highlands and toward Dalat. We pass hundreds of greenhouses as we approach town. The rain starts to really torrent and it’s cold, cold, cold. My fingers are getting numb. We turn off the road to the buddhist temple, park the bikes and scurry for cover.
It doesn’t let up, so we just go to the temple in our rain gear. Bruno explains but we can barely hear him over the rain. The enormous temple is constructed in mosaic of shards of local pottery and glass. It’s quite beautiful and extensive, but we just take a quick tour and go. I’m so cold I’m shivering.
In town they drop us off at ‘La Pensee’, a two star that is reasonable with a low flow shower but it’s hot. It just takes a while to warm up. The room has no AC, which could have been uncomfortable under normal 75-90F average temperatures. Today we could use a heater, which they probably don’t even sell in Vietnam except in the very north. We check on the girls and Lily is already asleep at 7pm, Emma looks drowsy.
We aren’t sure what to do for dinner, then Amanda hits one out of the park. She manages to get decent vegetarian food delivered to our hotel in the pouring rain. Bruno had told us of a place he thought we could get food. She found a menu posted on trip advisor and convinced the front desk at the hotel to call for us. It’s not great, but it’s edible and we didn’t have to get cold and soaked. (The next day the guys are surprised food was actually delivered.)
To sleep, then back on the road in the morning.
Oh my gosh, I’d love to be one of your kids. :D