Cycling Day 84 – Dalat to Phan Thiet
This day of the trip was always the one with the most uncertainty as to what we would do. Once we had decided to come into the mountains instead of following the coast, we had a few options. In the original plan, we were going to skip Dalat and just follow Highway 20 straight into Ho Chi Minh City. We decided that Dalat was worth a visit however, so included this in the plan which added a few more days to our Mountain experience. We had an additional problem of only having a limited supply of malaria tablets (the central highlands are considered a moderate to high risk area) so we wanted to be either back in Saigon or out to the coast within 15 days of coming in. Having picked up a few days with longer rides, we have now have some extra time on our hands, so we’ve decided to go out to the coast and spend some time in Mui Ne, a seaside resort known for its strong winds leading to activities such as kitesurfing and windsurfing.
Having decided we would come here, we looked at the options. There was one obvious place to stop about halfway called Di Linh, but given we were dropping from 1500m in Dalat down to sea level we thought we could probably go for a much longer day. We decided we would set off fairly early, and make a judgment call in Di Linh about whether we would attempt to ride the rest of the 175 km in one day. We actually got up too early in the end, and ended up having to wait for a few minutes as the hotel breakfast wasn’t ready. We were packed and on the road by about 7:15am, which is probably the earliest we’ve left all trip. Having walked around the centre of Dalat a fair bit in the few days we have had off here, we decided to take a slightly more roundabout route and see a bit more of the town on the way out. After a few small climbs we reached the outskirts of town and found the first big descent of the day. We decided to try and record the trip down in case there were any great views but they were fairly obscured to be honest.
The morning ride to Di Linh was fairly easy – it was mainly on a very slight downhill with a few minor climbs on the way. This was on highway 20 – the main route between Dalat and Ho Chi Minh City. The traffic was reasonably light for most of the journey as the road is split into one for two wheeled traffic and one for four wheelers. There were some interesting points along the way – one large dam had water spewing forth from one side in a fashion that made it seem somewhat alarmingly like it was about to burst. Luckily however, we stayed dry and set a pretty good pace, arriving in Di Linh by about 11am. Having eaten so early, we were already feeling peckish and decided to have an early lunch (yet another pho bo) on the road out of town towards Phan Thiet.
The road from Di Linh to Phan Thiet is Highway 28, although the “highway” nomenclature is a little misleading. This is a road that in several places is only about three metres wide, covered in low hanging trees and with steep descents and sharp corners. Because of this, there were very few people we encountered on the road, particularly about halfway where we had passed the satellite towns at either end. Di Linh was at about 1000m elevation, and we knew we had to go back up to 1250 before we started the long drop down to the coast. As we were going up, the beautiful valleys on either side were countered by the huge amounts of rubbish dumped on the side of the road – I can’t understand why such a beautiful place has become an unofficial tipping point. Holding our breath as we surged through the stench, we pushed on, stopping reasonably regularly to take photos along the way. It was made a bit worse by the fact that today was extremely hot – around the mid 30’s.
Once we were passed this though, we began our last serious climb of the trip. This was the type of climb that I would have found really difficult at the beginning of the trip, especially in the heat and having already done nearly 100km in the morning, but again it was fairly straight forward. From the top it turned out to be one of, if not the best road we’ve been on in the entire trip. Although most of the views were again impeded by the foliage on either side, it would regularly open out to give us clear vistas of the heavily forested valleys sweeping away on either side. We had read a motorcycle blog saying it was the rider’s favourite road in Vietnam and I have to agree wholeheartedly. It wasn’t entirely downhill as we were expecting, but dropped down over about 35km with some flat bits in between. We took a video which I’ll put in a separate blog post – it’s nearly an hour long so you’ll have to ignore some fairly inane chatter but hopefully it gives an idea of how epic the road was.
Once we hit the bottom we had about 40km left to get to Phan Thiet, which was made a fair bit worse by a moderate headwind, which felt particularly strong as we had had such a big day already. We were always going to be racing to get the distance done before nightfall, but we set a pretty good pace and got there about 20 minutes before sunset. The last bit was made a little easier by passing milestones such as our longest trip of the journey, and getting past 100 miles which was something we wanted to do at least once in the trip. Although today was downhill for long segments, it still feels like a massive achievement with our longest distance by far and our fifth biggest ascent of the trip since we left Whistler as well. With only about 250km over three relatively flat days left into Saigon, the end is definitely in sight!
We had decided to stay in Phan Thiet proper for the night due to there being no accommodation in Mui Ne. Strictly speaking, Mui Ne is actually a beach further east and the part that everyone calls Mui Ne is actually part of Phan Thiet. Mui Ne is apparently extremely popular with Russian tourists which was clear from the moment we arrived – even the signs in the hotel we are in are in Russian. We have to go about 10km tomorrow to move into the main resort strip then we have a few days off before making our way into Saigon for the last few days of our trip.