Its 211km from Buon Ma Thuot to Dalat. In theory that isn’t too far, but by the time you arrive your bum will be so numb you’ll wonder if anything at all remains below your waist.
Despite anticipating some uncomfortable moments, I was excited to be going. After all, this was the whole point of our trip: a motorbike adventure into the mountains of the central highlands. I’ve done several lengthy motorbike trips before. I was craving the feeling of freedom that you really can only get from being somewhere on a mountain road on a motorbike.
We did some research before going, looking for hints and tips from people who’d done this journey before. What we found suggested that the route between Buon Ma Thuot and Dalat was a hazardous one, completely bereft of petrol stations, and made up of unfinished roads and Grand Canyon pot holes. Thus not wanting to become stranded, we filled up both the motorbike’s petrol tank before leaving and, for good measure, another empty 2-litre water bottle, just in case.
…what can I say, except that whoever it was who claimed that there is no fuel available en-route is very simply wrong in the most colossally colossal of wrong ways. We passed maybe 11 or 12 petrol stations along the way, along with a dozen more road-side shacks selling hand pumped fuel in case of emergencies. We used the petrol in the water bottle only because we could, but it was hardly necessary.
The road also isn’t nearly as bad as was otherwise suggested. The QL27 highway will take you pretty much the whole way there, making navigation practically unnecessary. Its also a good road to drive on. Sure, in parts it was patchy, in others still being built, and its rarely a good idea to drive anywhere in Vietnam and not keep a close eye on the road ahead for big holes just waiting to gobble up both bike and biker. But the unbuilt, difficult sections were never more than a few dozen meters long. For the most part this is a route of flat, beautiful, sweeping grey tarmac. It was a lot of fun to drive.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it is also a very beautiful journey. I will admit that I came away feeling that perhaps it wasn’t quite as beautiful as some other drives I’ve been on north from Hanoi. Whereas the roads around Sapa and Cao Bang are flanked by miles of elegant, neon green rice terraces and sweeping valleys, the scenery around Dalat is much rougher. Whilst undoubtedly beautiful, the more rugged orchards of coffee plantations and crops aren’t quite as stunningly breathtaking as the mountains of the north.
But that isn’t to detract from what was still a very pleasant drive. Saying this drive isn’t beautiful because the drive to Cao Bang is more beautiful is like saying the Maccabees album is rubbish because the Beatles wrote the White Album and that was way better. This remains a very beautiful journey in its own right, and we stopped several times to absorb the sights, enjoying the silence of the countryside. I wanted to go on this trip to satisfy my craving for a motorbike trip into the country. I certainly got what I wanted.
It took around seven hours. We could have gone quicker, and if you really go for it you could probably very safely do this trip in five. But what’s the point of going on a bike trip if you’re just going to drive at lightning speed past all the good scenery? Once we’d got into the journey, and seeing the roads weren’t going to hold us up, I was very happy to slow down a little and just enjoy the trip. I suggest you do too. This isn’t the TT races.
Just remember to take a jumper: the air around Dalat cools quickly, and you don’t want to arrive freezing cold. So yeah. Take thermals. Ok? Good.